February is a month in wrestling history that perhaps only a sadist could love. Shawn Michaels lost his smile and Mae Young gave birth to a hand. Oh, Crash Holly also declared the 24/7 rule for the WWE hardcore championship creating a slew of title changes that proved difficult to follow and impossible to care about for even 24 seconds. It is a good thing February is the shortest month or they’d be more stupid angles from the Monday Night Wars to revisit.
Yet, back in the day, February meant big title matches. February marked two significant WWWF / WWF title changes with Pedro Morales taking the belt from Ivan Koloff on 8 February 1971 and Bob Backlund winning the same strap on 20 February 1978 from Superstar Billy Graham. A huge NWA title change on 11 February 1969 saw Dory Funk Jr win the title from Gene Kiniski. Funk would hold the title for almost four years, the last long term NWA touring champion until years later. In 1973, Harley Race began his longest run of nearly 1000 days defeating Dory’s brother Terry for the title on 6 February 1977. On 24 February 1995, Dan Severn kicked off a 1,479 day reign with a much different NWA title defeating Chris Candido. The last AWA champ – the Living Legend / Gagne Son in Law –Larry Zbyszko won the once mighty title in a weak way by being the last man standing in a Battle Royal on 7 February 1989.
The February WWE Pay Per View (PPV) acts as a place holder, not to upset the apple cart before WrestleMania. It advances angles rather than breaks new ground. In WCW, February meant SuperBrawl which started in 1992 (okay, the first was May 1991) and lasted until the demise of the promotion in 2001. Sting starred in eight, but Vader ruled with a three year run against Sting (the slider / White Castle of Fear match), Flair in a Thundercage, and then Hogan. That February 1995 Hogan match led early Internet fans to chant online: “shoot Vader shoot.”
So, work or shoot, what are the top 15 February moments in wrestling history?
14 New Japan Gets a New Owner
While the deal was announced in January, the first of February 2012 marked the day that sports card company Bushiroad acted as new owner. Founded by Antonio Inoki in March 1972, New Japan was a historically successful promotion with way more up than downs. By 2012, it was by far the number one promotion in Japan, so the new owners began to make it one of the most popular in the world in direct competition with both UFC and WWE. In August 2012, they would air their first pay-per-view in Japan. A few months later, they’d promote an iPPV available to a worldwide audience. To get a base in the United States, New Japan teamed with Ring of Honor starting in February 2014, a partnership that has benefited both promotions. Later that year, they’d get a US cable deal, run their Wrestle Kingdom PPV in the US, and launch a WWE network style subscription service. New Japan’s expansion under new owners has put more eyes on their product and more cash in their pockets.
13 Rey Mysterio Jr. Loses his Mask in WCW
Historic, really? Yes, because it is example number 619 of WCW’s blundering cluelessness. The tradition of masked luchadores became well known to American audiences as grapplers like Mysterio appeared on Monday Nitro. Rey easily was the most popular, thus putting up his mask should / could have been a huge match. If in Mexico, he’d put it up against another masked wrestler or against a bitter rival’s hair. Instead, the angle was part of a middle of the card tag match. Rey and Konnan battled Nash and Hall where Rey put his mask up against…Miss Elizabeth’s hair. Everyone in the WCW fan base knew there was NO WAY Miss Elizabeth would shave her head, so the hastily built up match on 21 February 1999 lacked both heat and common sense. The whole fiasco demonstrated, as Rey noted “I don't think WCW understood what the mask meant to me, to my fans and to my family. It was a very bad move on their behalf. The fans wanted Rey Mysterio with the mask and losing it hurt me a lot.”
12 T12. ECW Presents The Night the Line Was Crossed
ECW’s origins go back to 1989 as Joel Goodhart’s Tri-State Wrestling Alliance which made big noise for a little promotion with a focus on bloodfests, but also mixing legends with young talent. The recipe stayed the same under new owner Todd Gordon and booker Paul Heyman. Their 5 February 1994 card had (then) up and coming talent like The Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, and Tazz (then The Tazmanic) appearing alongside vets like The Sheik, Jimmy Snuka, and Kevin Sullivan. But what made the card special was the unique main event. The match featured three wrestling generations: Sabu vs. Shane Douglas vs. Terry Funk in “a three way dance.” This new match format featured an old school finish ending in a sixty minute time limit draw. By putting Douglas and Sabu as the legendary Funk’s equals, Heyman gave them the push which kept them both in ECW main events for years to come, along with never retiring Funk!
T12. Rebranded ECW Dies
Sabu would continue as a ECW main stay – aside from short stints in New Japan, WCW and various hospitals – for years. When the release of the ECW DVD made money, as did two One Night Stand PPVs, WWE answered the ongoing “ECW” chants by relaunching the brand. And there was Sabu again, winning the Extreme Battle Royal during the first new ECW show on SyFy Channel in June 2006. With ECW holdovers like Sabu and new talent like C.M. Punk in the ring, plus Paul Heyman, in theory, in charge of ECW creative, the new ECW had a chance. Yet by the end of 2006 Heyman would be fired, Sabu was let go in May 2007, and the brand struggled as more and more mainstream WWE talent filled top of the cards. A “talent exchange” with Smackdown and changing time slots didn’t stop the bleeding (oh, irony). The final show aired on 16 February 2010 with Ezekiel Jackson (who?) winning the ECW Championship , a result which might explain why fans lost interest. Heyman’s bastardized child ECW was replaced by HHH’s at first ugly child, NXT. In ultimate irony, NXT developed a fan base that chants not for performers, but like original ECW, for the brand itself. NXT! ECW! NXT!
11 T10. NXT Debuts
The NXT that debuted a week later on 23 February 2010 mixed wrestling and a reality show, similar to the new Breaking Ground series. There was also a touch of Ultimate Fighter as a “big name” WWE talent who mentored young talent with the hilarious pairing of indy vet Daniel Bryan with “never saw the inside of a VFW Hall” reality TV star turned wrestler The Miz. Bryan would lose all his matches while Wade Barrett got the mega push to win season one. A huge angle saw all the season one NXT wrestlers attack John Cena in June 2010 forming the NEXUS faction. The angle lost steam, as did NXT when it moved in September 2010 during the middle of the third season from SyFy to wwe.com. It wasn’t until the WWE network and the all wrestling show that the brand, now with more access and in ring product, found a loyal and loud following.
10 T10. WWE Network Airs its First Live Event, NXT Arrival
The network itself is (spoiler) a huge February moment alert, but NXT Arrival created immediate buzz for the NXT brand. The event on 27 February 2014 marked the first live wrestling on the WWE network. The show started with HHH (of course) in the ring and on the microphone (of course) saying that “the next generation has arrived.” Well, yes and no. The opening match pitting Cesaro (who’d been on the main roster since May 2012) against Sami Zayn featured great wrestling. The main event saw next generation stars Bo Dallas lose the NXT championship to Neville. Except two years later, the rarely on Raw Dallas looks to be part of a JOB squad faction. Neville started strong, but seems relegated to a high spot match / mid card push. Only Paige, who defeated Emma on the show, has achieved success as a single in the WWE, while others on the card like the Ascension have bombed. Tyler Breeze and Xavier Woods went to a 35 second no contest, and their chance at a real push on the main roster will probably not last much longer than that time. Yet, the atmosphere of the Full Sail setting, the energy of the crowd, and the promise of something new lands NXT Arrival on time as a February memorable moment.
9 Brock Lesnar makes his UFC debut
Brock’s leaving the WWE in 2004 wasn’t huge news or a blow to the company, but his return in April 2012 provided a needed shot in the arm to a stale main event picture. In between, he took time to win a UFC championship. While he lost his debut on 2 February 2008 to Frank Mir – he was dominating until in a bad call by the official— Brock was UFC box office from day one. His UFC 100 rematch with Mir earned UFC it’s biggest PPV buy-rate at the time. If Brock hadn’t gone to UFC, his WWE return might have come sooner and without the same impact. His move also set the stage for C.M. Punk to walk away from the lucrative, if health destroying, WWE life to take on the challenge of MMA. It is odd that with a huge number of charismatic ex-UFC / Pride fighters (like Don Frye) with pro wrestling experience that the WWE hasn’t built up it’s roster with more “legit” real guys instead of goofs like Mojo Rawley or Bull Dempsey.
8 “Dr. D” David Shultz Hits 20/20 Reporter John Stossel
Speaking of real…when John Stossel told brawny Southern drawly wrestler David Shultz that he thought wrestling was fake, Shultz responded with two hard slaps to the face. While the incident took place in December 1984, it wouldn’t air until February 1985 just before WrestleMania I, an event where Shultz wasn’t even booked. Shultz claimed Vince McMahon told him to rough up the reporter, while others believe this incident – along with Shultz trying to attack Mr. T – was him trying to work his way into a big pay day. A big pay day turned out to be result of the incident as Stossel successfully sued for just under a half million. The interview was part of an overall expose on pro wrestling that probably helped the business as much as it hurt it. One wonders if Shultz was still with the company in 1989 when Linda McMahon told a New Jersey legislative committee that wrestling was indeed fake, if she’d got her ears boxed by him too.
7 T6. Vince McMahon Announces the XFL
At a news conference on 3 February 2000, Vince McMahon announced that he’d use the millions he’d made going public to purchase the struggling WCW and ECW promotions thereby ensuring years of storylines. No, wait, instead he announced the XFL: a football league to the extreme. At the same time he was not paying road expenses for wrestling talent, McMahon found money to fund a football league. While he couldn’t get wrestling on primetime TV, he convinced NBC to not only air the XFL but also be half owners. He roped in former NFL stars, and one former MN governor, to serve as coaches and commentators. Crowing about his venture, McMahon said his “XFL is more than just an extension of the football season, it is a completely new product that not only fills a void for football fans, but will give the casual fan an all-access pass to a football experience unlike any other to date. The action will feature the best football players available and will be highly competitive, hard-hitting, and most importantly, fan friendly. Guaranteed.”
6 T6. XFL Debuts
McMahon failed to mention, however, that it was a one year guarantee. While there was lots of talk of how different the league would be than the NFL, the main difference was the stupidity of the entire venture. Perhaps when the “human coin toss” to start the first game on 3 February 2001 resulted in an injury it was a bad sign. While the first week drew respectable ratings, they fell by almost half in the second week. As the season continued, it became clear that only people who enjoyed watching car crashes tuned in XFL games. Borrowing from wrestling, they were soon angles and plenty of Attitude Era sexuality. The attitude of most football fans seemed best reflected in the jersey of one player. Rather than is name, running back Rod Smart had the words “he hate me” on the back of his jersey. And hate is exactly how the USA felt about the XFL.
5 Ring of Honor is Born
In ten years, this might rate much higher on the list. The first show was perhaps memorable to the few hundred people inside the ECW area on 23 February 2002 or the few thousand who purchased the Era of Honor Begins DVD. Started by ECW video distributer Rod Feinstein using top indy talent, the idea was to put on great wrestling matches in order to sell DVDs. The main event of the first card featured Bryan Danielson winning over Low Ki and Christopher Daniels in a triple threat. While Low Ki – the first ROH champion – wouldn’t stick with the WWE, Danielson would for a short time become a huge star. Other ROH alumni, such as Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Kevin Owens, C.M. Punk, and recently signed A.J. Styles all rose through the ROH ranks. The question remains if there someone in ROH now (Michael Bennett or Elgin, Moose, Adam Cole, or ???) who one day could be “the guy” in the WWE?
4 Wrestling Returns to Prime-Time Network Television
This might have been number one, except the main event – the rematch from WrestleMania III between Andre the Giant vs Hulk Hogan – was so bad on so many levels. On 5 February 1988, with more eyes on the product than ever before (over 33 million) the WWE presented a horrible match with a wrestler who had no business in the ring featuring the stupidest finish EVER. The “twin ref” angle might have been clever, but insulted anyone with an intelligence level over 70 – which probably included much of the NBC audience who watched the show – that it might have done more harm to the product than good. By giving away Hogan vs Andre, McMahon also lost his best draw for WrestleMania IV which instead featured a boring tournament that at least had the right winner in Randy Savage. Oh, Savage was on NBC in primetime Main Event show that night too winning BY COUNT OUT to the Honky Tonk Man!!! (Second stupidest finish EVER).
3 The Mega Powers Explode on Prime Time
The good ratings of the 1988 Main Event lead to another prime time show on 3 February 1989. While the ratings weren’t great, nor was the wrestling in the main event (Hogan and Savage vs Big Boss Man and Akeem), the angle that took place during the show drew money. Savage’s heel turn on Hogan, accusing him of having “lust in his eyes” for Elizabeth, had been planted for months, some might argue a year. Savage’s rage came off as real, unlike Hogan who was faker than ever, speaking kayfabe on the air live. The angle set up the WrestleMania V main event. It worked as WrestleMania V (the Mega Powers Explode) increased PPV buy rate almost 50% over WrestleMania IV and remained the highest buy-rate until 1999. Long range planning, reality based angles and red-hot heel: a simple formula that seems to be forgotten.
2 WWE Network Launches in the United States
Mark down 24 February 2014 as the date of the game changer for the company – and industry for so many reasons. The PPV model – in part due to illegal streaming – was in trouble. The WWE also saw other “leagues” (MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL) launch with some success their own subscription services so it was bold if inevitable move. Moving all the PPVs now seems a questionable call as does the belief that offering episodes of Legends House on demand would draw one single subscriber. The WWE needed lots of content to drive early sub rates, but in doing so, they’ve used up resources to roll out to create new buzz. With the exception of the Austin podcasts and some specials, little of the non-wrestling / expensive original programming is worth watching, thus drawing subs. It is also doubtful it will ever meet it’s projected sign-ups. So, it is a success, but also a failure. Just because the VKM wants to relive the Attitude Era and Monday Night Wars, he shouldn’t assume anyone else does: most of us have gone on with our lives. Maybe once Vince does, he’ll grow the business forward rather than looking back
1 War to Settle the Score
If WrestleMania 1 would have failed, the rest of the WWE events listed here and other blogs wouldn’t exist. The company rolled the dice and came up with a winner. The success came from the hype, most of it from WWE capitalizing on the MTV audience. The 18 February 1985 broadcast of the Piper vs Hogan match (again, a terrible match) live on MTV was unprecedented as was the high profile use of non-wrestler Mr. T. While other non-wrestlers had been involved in the business before, none at this level and most of them were at least athletes, not actors. Yet the angle after the match involving not only Mr. T, but also then big name singer Cyndi Lauper launched the rocket ship known as the “rock n wrestling connection. This marks 18 February 1985 as the most memorable event in the long term to take place in the year’s shortest month.