December 7, 1941. November 22, 1963. January 28, 1986. September 11, 2001. These are dates that have become famous as key events in history to the point you just have to mention them and people know what they mean. Anyone alive then can clearly remember where they were and what they were doing when huge events occur and how they shape the world we know. It’s like that in sport as a true fan can list the dates of not only games but major trades or drafts that affected their teams. It’s the same in wrestling as there are a lot of major dates that shift the business up majorly and still worth remembering.
WCW would make a habit of saying practically every other Nitro was “the biggest night in wrestling history” but there really are some dates that have changed things. It’s not just major title bouts or a guy leaving a company but events that really do shift the entire industry so much. Sometimes it’s a title bout but others, it’s a change of ownership, a new business model coming along and something else that can transform the entire industry. Some are bigger than others as TNA’s formation isn’t as huge a deal as time has gone by while the death of some territories have shifted things up. There have been so many such days that changed so much in wrestling but a few stand out more than others. Here are 15 of the most important days in wrestling that changed so much and how the business was never the same afterward.
15 November 7, 1988: JCP to WCW
For all his faults, Jim Crockett understood wrestling and how to make it work but his reliance on Dusty Rhodes’ booking and trying to break out North worked against him. Despite having a fantastic talent base, Crockett just couldn’t balance overspending for poor product and killing off towns with bad booking. So in November, he was forced to sell to Turner, transforming his NWA section into WCW and a major change for the wrestling world.
The company was now under a corporate structure with folks who didn’t know the business and led to a lot of ups and downs before its inevitable end. Crockett had a style that old-school fans enjoyed and it was a shame to have that lost as WCW would rise to new heights but without that same heart to close out an era in wrestling.
14 February 10, 1984: The Texas Tragedy
In 1982, World Class Championship Wrestling began taking off into one of the must-see promotions of the time. It boasted then cutting-edge TV graphics and production values, a terrific selection of talent and the epic Von Erich/Freebird feud that sold out arenas over Texas. The international fame was great to the point that if he wanted to, Fritz Von Erich could easily have expanded with his sons as stars. The best of them was David, the full package of a great worker, good on the mic and charisma that could not be touched. The NWA was backing him with plans for David to win the title off of Flair in 1984. But during a tour of Japan, David was found dead in his hotel room.
The reasons vary, some claiming a heart attack while others insist a drug overdose but the point was that David’s death rocked the state hard. Kerry won the belt off Flair at a Memorial Parade of Champions but held it only two weeks as the NWA didn’t have the faith in him as they had David. Most everyone associated with WCCW agrees that the spirit of the company died with him. It was never the same afterward and it began the string of tragedies WCW is infamous for. Had he lived, the wrestling world might be different today as David’s death also marked the beginning of the end for his territory’s glory days.
13 November 24, 1983: The Granddaddy Of Them All
Before WrestleMania, this was truly the first “supercard.” On Thanksgiving night, Jim Crockett put together an epic show with closed-circuit showings that sold out smaller arenas and theaters and did a monster take. The matches were amazing: Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood winning the tag titles over the Briscoes; Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine in a bloody dog collar match; and Ric Flair regaining the NWA title over Harley Race in a steel cage main event. From then until WCW’s death, Starrcade was a key show and boosted Crockett while paving the way for so many other supercard events to win fans over and shape the wrestling business.
12 July 6, 1996: A New World Order
From the day Scott Hall and Kevin Nash arrived in WCW, things were heating up as they attacked other wrestlers and boasted of a mystery partner for Bash at the Beach. They had Randy Savage down and attacking when Hulk Hogan, the patron saint of wrestling fan favorites, came out, ran them back…then dropped the leg on Savage. He followed it with a promo blasting all the fans for “turning” on him and declaring the trio “The New World Order of professional wrestling.” Seeing the man made out as the greatest hero of the business going heel was sensational and made WCW must-see TV, followed by the trio attacking anyone in sight. It remains the biggest success in WCW’s history and so many times imitated but never duplicated for a turn that fans of the time never can forget.
11 June 24, 2007: Benoit
It still makes so many fans bitter. The man that stood for all that was right about wrestling ended up giving the business its biggest black eye ever. Today, the signs are obvious; Benoit’s temper, his multiple head shots and insistence on taking wrestling for real. It was a recipe for disaster. But still, no one could have dreamed that on this day, Benoit would murder his wife Nancy, their 8-year-old son and then himself.
The shockwaves would affect the business majorly as WWE has basically erased him from their records, which most agree is a good move and yet robbing us of the legacy of great matches. It has kicked up more concern over these injuries, leading to a different style of work and a wellness policy that many agree has done some good (MVP’s life was saved by a checkup that showed he needed heart surgery fast). Yet, it remains so jarring that Benoit could harm the business he loved so much and the effects of that dark day still reverberate in wrestling.
10 August 27, 1994: The Birth of Extreme
It’s one of the most famous shoots in history that turned so much around. Eastern Championship Wrestling was winning over fans with a new style but Paul Heyman and Tod Gordon knew they needed something big to get major attention. On this day, the NWA held a tournament to crown a new champion, won by Shane Douglas. Douglas launched into a tearful promo of the legacy of the company and all its past champions and then declared “They can all…kiss…my…ass!”
After throwing down the belt, Douglas blasted the NWA as done and over and declared himself the first ECW World champion. The NWA was furious but Heyman didn’t care as ECW was renamed to Extreme Championship Wrestling and proceeded to turn the entire wrestling world on its ear with its violence, content and breaking the old rules. On that hot August night in Philadelphia, a revolution was born that would take wrestling to a bold new level and thus a promo that shifted so much for so many.
9 November 9, 1997: Montreal
It’s the double cross that transformed the War forever. Bret Hart was determined to leave the Survivor Series still WWE champion and give up the belt before going to WCW. Vince McMahon was determined for Bret not do that, but Bret refused to lose to Shawn Michaels in Canada. So the stage was set for a drama greater than anything scripted. Shawn got Bret into the sharpshooter, Vince demanded to “ring the bell” and Shawn was awarded the title despite Bret never giving up.
Bret spat at Vince and smashed up monitors before going backstage where he punched Vince in the face. At the time, many believed this was the mortal blow for WWE and WCW would use Bret to lead their company to victory. Instead, the company dropped the ball with Bret worse than anyone expected. Meanwhile, Vince used this to create the “Mr. McMahon” character that led to the Attitude Era and the company exploded into the stratosphere. One night shifted so much beyond what anyone expected, turning the Screwjob into an iconic, if not infamous, moment.
8 March 26, 2001: The End of WCW
Despite all their troubles, WCW felt as long as Ted Turner had their back, they had a home. Sadly, when Turner lost control of his own company in 2000, WCW’s days were numbered as all their bad business came back to bite them. In 2001, the final blow came as Nitro was canceled without warning and thus WCW was forced to sell to Vince McMahon for the pittance of $5 million. So, what was to be the Spring Break episode of Nitro instead was the end of an era as Vince showed up to boast of buying his competition and we had a “Night of Champions” with Booker T beating Scott Steiner for the WCW title and Flair and Sting having the final Nitro match.
It all ended with Shane McMahon announcing he “owned” WCW. It was tough to see the company end like this to close out a great part of wrestling history.
7 March 31, 1985: WrestleMania
Vince McMahon is perfectly frank on this: If WrestleMania had failed, WWE today would be nowhere near as powerful. Vince had sunk so much of his money into this, a event with closed-circuit TV showings, multiple celebrities involved and a huge main event of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. The risk paid off, as the show a massive success and would create for Vince McMahon a mainstay of the wrestling calendar. It’s still the backbone of WWE today and its success led to the PPV market erupting and proving wrestling could have some mainstream attention.
6 May 17, 1963: The Rise of WWWF
In 1963, after several bitter arguments, Vince McMahon Sr. finally had the clout to break away from the rest of the NWA and form World Wide Wrestling Federation. Declared their first champion, Buddy Rogers faced Bruno Sammartino at Madison Square Garden and was beaten in less than a minute.
It would begin Bruno’s seven-year reign as champion that would sell out MSG constantly and help McMahon forge the northeast into the base his son would later use to remake the wrestling world. Without Bruno, there would be no WWE today and this day kicked off events that would pay off for the wrestling world decades later.
5 March 6, 1972: A New Era For Japan
Japanese wrestling had existed for decades but mostly as a loose grouping of promoters who didn’t get along well. Already the biggest star in the country, Antonio Inoki decided to do something different and thus created what would become the most respected organization in the country and arguably the world. Regularly selling out the biggest arenas in Japan with still-record crowds, IWGP has won over fans across the world as home to some major stars, welcoming American ones as well and regarded as the best place to ply your trade. So many other promotions have come and gone in Japan but IWGP is what fans think of regarding the Land of the Rising Sun and thus its importance is clear.
4 January 23, 1984: Hulkamania Is Born
Verne Gagne could spin it all he wanted to but refusing to give the AWA World title to Hulk Hogan was the worst mistake imaginable. Already a rising mega-star, Hogan had the charisma and ability to hold crowds needed to push wrestling up and Gagne refused to see it. Vince McMahon did, getting Hogan and having him crush the Iron Sheik to win the WWE title before a packed Madison Square Garden crowd. The win launched Hulkamania and the man who would transform the entire industry forever and thus a key moment not just for WWE but the business itself.
3 September 4, 1995: The Monday Night War Begins
When WCW announced they were going head-to-head with RAW on Monday nights, people thought they were crazy and it would never work. Eric Bischoff stunned everyone by getting Lex Luger to jump ship from the WWE with no warning for a surprise appearance. He then followed it by giving away pre-taped RAW results and pushed WWE to a new limit.
WWE would respond in ways that changed the game and for the next several years, their battle for ratings would create new stars and exciting moments to push the entire business to new heights. In one night, WCW truly did shake up the business like never before and helped wrestling reach an amazing new level of success.
2 July 15, 1948, NWA forms
The older days of wrestling were marked by various territories squabbling for control and each declaring their own world champion. In 1948, the major owners realized that they were better off working together than fighting and thus formed what would become the National Wrestling Alliance, declaring Lou Thesz their first world champion. They had their issues, conflicts and such but they still brought a greater organization to the wrestling landscape and a format fans could get behind. Of course, some would break away like Verne Gagne and Vince McMahon Sr. to whittle their power but for the better part of 40 years, the NWA was the major force of wrestling and their reign shaped what we know of the wrestling world today.
1 February 21, 1980: Vince Takes Over
While technically, Vince McMahon Sr. didn’t cede power until 1982, most agree that Vince Jr. truly took over on this day when he formally found
ed World Wrestling Federation. He dropped the “Wide” from the older name and set up shop in Stamford. From there, Vince would soon build the company up and once he took over from his dad, began the massive expansion over the territories and set the WWE on the rise to become the major force of wrestling. The seeds for the transformation of the business were laid on this day as well as Vince’s rise to power. Wrestling would never be the same.
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