It takes a special type of person to even try to become a professional wrestler, considering it's a sport where you get paid to fall down every night. It is even crazier to think that in most cases, the men and women who enter the world of professional wrestling know that they have very little chance of making it to the WWE or any other major promotion.
After considering the small amount of people who actually make it to the big stage, keep in mind that only a few of them even have careers that last longer than five years. With that being said, when a wrestler is given a small window of opportunity to break away from the pack, they need to take it.
Granted, it’s hard to tell when a moment has come, as all of the stars need to be aligned for a wrestler to even have a chance to connect with both fans and management; a great example of this would be Dolph Ziggler’s Money in the Bank cash in, after WrestleMania 29.
Although Ziggler won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and received one of the loudest crowd reactions in recent history, the Show Off still couldn't break out of the mid-card scene. Apparently the memorable Raw moment did not resonate with WWE management as much as it did with fans.
It would take months to read an article (or book for that matter) about all of the wrestlers who didn’t have or capitalize on their moment to shine, that is why today we are going to stay positive, and look at 15 of the top breakthrough moments in wrestling history. Keep in mind that this list is focusing on breakthrough moments, so think about what got a wrestler to the show, instead of their greatest accolades in the business.
As always let us know if you agree with our list, and share your opinions in the comments below.
15 1-2-3 Kid's Win over Razor
Despite the massive ego many have claimed Scott Hall to have, the WWE Hall of Famer has never shied away from putting over other wrestlers; this was never more evident than when Hall was wrestling in the WWE as Razor Ramon. Razor was wrestling “The Kid” who over the course of a few weeks had been the Lighting Kid, Cannonball Kid, and Kamikaze kid respectively. After The Kid scored a surprise pinfall victory over Razor, he became the 1-2-3 Kid on screen, and a member of The Kliq behind the scenes. Needless to say things worked out for The Kid, who would go on to become X-Pac in the WWE.
14 Jeff Hardy vs. Undertaker
In what’s touted as one of the greatest matches in the history of Monday Night Raw, Jeff Hardy took on The Undertaker in a Ladder Match for the WWE Undisputed Championship in 2002. While Hardy lost the match, the nearly 20 minute match (along with some classic commentary from Jim Ross) was able to catapult the tag team specialist, into a star in his own right. From a storytelling perspective, Hardy showed that he had what it took to hang with the biggest, and baddest dog in the yard, gaining everyone's respect in the process.
13 The Radicalz Debut
When WCW was on the decline, many stars began to jump ship and leave the company; The Radicalz were no different. The group, which consisted of Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, and Eddie Guerrero, debuted on WWE’s Monday Night Raw on January 31, 2000 as guests of Mick Foley.
While the camera threw to the group from time to time, they didn’t put much emphasis on them until they unceremoniously destroyed the New Age Outlaws at ringside. Jim Ross made no bones about making the group sound like all-stars, even though most of the men had never even been in a WCW main event match. This was one of the best debuts in WWE history, and made all four men household names.
12 Punk's Pipebomb
All it took was a live microphone and an opportunity on June 27th, 2011 to turn CM Punk into a household name. Sure the Straight Edge Superstar was always on the fringe of mainstream popularity, but it was his infamous “pipebomb” promo that lit the world on fire.
In it Punk painted a picture detailing all of the problems in the WWE, speaking for every fan who was watching that night. Ironically after complaining about not being featured on television shows, or showing up in commercials for Raw, Punk’s face was everywhere. Although the former WWE Champion is no longer with the company, he was able to parlay his big break into a UFC contract in 2014.
11 Orton Turns on Evolution
Evolution was the modern incarnation of the Four Horseman, grouping together Ric Flair, Triple H, Batista, and a young Randy Orton. The group reigned over Raw in 2003,with every member holding one of the show’s major Titles. As with all factions, eventually dissension found its way into the ranks of Evolution after Randy Orton managed to win the World Heavyweight Title instead of Triple H.
When Orton refused to lay down for The Game, and chose to spit in his face instead, Orton instantly transitioned into a fan favorite. Though his time with the Title was short, Orton managed to establish himself as a main event talent because of the incident.
10 Edge vs. Matt Hardy
Edge and Matt Hardy were both in iconic tag teams during the Attitude Era, with each man breaking off on their own in the early 2000s. Though they were both household names, each found it difficult to transition into the main event scene. It wouldn’t be until a real life love triangle would emerge between the two men and WWE Diva Lita, that both stars would be seen as more than just tag team wrestlers.
In a case of art imitating life, Edge took on the persona of a heel who hated the internet fans and wanted his life to stay private, and Hardy took the role of an underdog who was out for justice. Because of this feud/storyline, both men gained loyal fans that they both have until this day.
9 Jericho's Undisputed Championship Reign
You could argue that Chris Jericho’s defining moment was when he interrupted The Rock during his 1999 WWE debut, with the former WCW star having a verbal war with the company’s top star. However, if you follow his career after that promo, Jericho had a lackluster run, losing matches to the likes of the Road Dogg, Chyna, X-Pac, and D-Lo Brown.
It wasn’t until his run as the first WWE Undisputed Champion, that Jericho broke through to the main event scene, carrying both the WWE Championship as well as the World Heavyweight Championship. The moment shows a sign of faith in Jericho from Vince McMahon, as he was specifically chosen to defeat Steve Austin and The Rock on the same night to win the Title.
8 Booker T's First Title
Some may think that Booker T being pushed as a main event talent in WCW was the result of the company losing stars and money, but they would be wrong. In fact, the entire writing team at WCW wanted to put the Heavyweight Championship on Booker T for years, but were constantly overruled by wrestlers who all had creative control over their storylines and contracts.
When Vince Russo was finally able to put the belt on Booker at the 2000 Bash at the Beach pay per view, it truly pushed the eventual Hall of Famer to the upper echelon. Booker T was so elevated by the Championship win(s), that he was billed as the top WCW talent during the Invasion angle in 2001.
7 The Rock Joins the Nation
The last thing that the WWE wanted to hear from their fans was “Die Rocky Die”, after introducing Rocky Miavia on WWE programming in 1996. At the time of his debut, The Rock was just too much of a good guy, and unfortunately wrestling had moved past needing characters like that.
Luckily for Rocky when The Nation of Domination needed a fourth member, he was the perfect fit. Joining The Nation allowed The Rock to come into his own as a heel, and show glimpses of the megastar that he would eventually become.
6 Christian Debuts in TNA
After splitting up from Edge in 2001, Christian floated around in the mid-card without much to do. Although he was able to capture a few titles, including the European Championship, Hardcore Championship, and WWE Tag Team Championships, Captian Charisma couldn’t seem to make it out of the lower ranks of the roster.
After feeling like a second class citizen in WWE, Christian defected and signed a contract with TNA, under the moniker “Christian Cage”. Though Cage would have many great moments during his tenure with TNA, it was his debut that cemented him as a main event player.
The presenataion, and hype of Christian’s arrival gave viewers the sense that he was worth more than WWE ever realized. Christian was able to parlay his success in TNA into a main event status when he resigned with WWE in 2009.
5 Hogan Goes Heel
Hulk Hogan transcended wrestling in the 1980s, appearing in movies, commercials, and magazines all over the world. While slamming Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III may have led to much of Hogan’s success, it could be argued that the biggest break of his career came by the way of joining the nWo.
After years of telling kids to eat their vitamins and say their prayers, Hogan turned to the darkside, forever changing the wrestling business. Now, there are sure to be naysayers who will argue that joining the nWo wasn’t Hogan’s breakthrough moment, and they are entitled to their opinion. You have to remember though, without heel Hogan, there would have been no true nWo, no Hogan vs. Rock at WrestleMania 18, and Hogan’s career would have likely fizzled out in the mid 90s.
4 Triple H Shoot Promo
Before he was the COO, before he was the husband of the boss’s daughter, Triple H was just another struggling mid-carder. Sure Triple H was the fan favorite leader of DX during the late 90s, but he was yet to join the elite group of main eventers that had carried the company into the Attitude Era.
It wouldn’t be until Triple H gave a “shoot” interview with Jim Ross in 1999, that he would truly break away from the pack and become the number one heel in the company. The interview shed light on Trips’ frustration with the WWE, specifically with how they handled the Kilq's Curtain Call incident. This interview gave rise to “The Game” persona, and eventually led to multiple Heavyweight Title reigns.
3 Sting Black and White
In the middle of the Monday Night War, WCW had the nWo running roughshod over the entire wrestling industry. While the group continued to expand their ranks, they could never quite convince Sting to join the black and white version of the stable.
Though Sting never officially joined the group, he donned black and white face paint in 1996, and served as a nemesis to the nWo. Younger readers may not know, but this new quiet and brooding version of Sting was a drastic change of character for the previously colorful and animated WCW star. Though Sting was an absolute superstar prior to his character change, it was during this time in his career that turned him into the icon he is today.
2 Austin 3:16
A few things had to happen in 1996 before Steve Austin would become the biggest star in wrestling history. First, The Kliq had to participate in the “Curtain Call” incident, which removed Triple H from the good graces of Vince McMahon. Secondly, Austin would have to win the King of the Ring tournament, and cut the most memorable promo in wrestling history on Jake Roberts. The promo would not only give life to two of the most memorable catchphrases in history, but also to the explosion of the career of Stone Cold Steve Austin.
1 Ric Flair Becomes the Nature Boy
How could Ric Flair not be number one on this list? The living legend has inspired every single wrestler in the business, and is considered by most to be the best to ever lace up a pair of boots. Without Ric Flair there would be no Stone Cold, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, or Triple H; but without Buddy Rodgers there would be no Ric Flair.
The "Battle of the Nature Boys" is an often forgotten about match, wherein the winner was entitled to the gimmick of "The Nature Boy". Obviously Ric Flair won, which gave way to decades of the act that we have all come to know and love from the 16 time World Heavyweight Champion.