Pro Wrestling has been around for a long time. The first televised pro wrestling event was held on July 10, 1946 - and its history stretches even further than that. It stretches back to the days of the travelling carnival, which is also where people went to see freaks and monsters because YouTube hadn't been invented yet. Even the most popular eras in the business - the Rock and Wrestling and Monday Night War/Attitude Eras - were over 30 and 20 years ago, respectively.
Say what you want about the WWE (and you will), but their financial resources have allowed them to acquire and present some great moments from pro wrestling's past on the WWE Network. As a young kid growing up in the late 1980s/early 1990s, I got to see a lot of wrestling from NWA, USWA, GWF and AWA - some really good stuff that you wouldn't probably get to see today if they weren't on the Network.
Now, the title of this article says "younger" fans, but it should really be "newer" fans, because we here at The Sportster know of plenty of younger fans that have taken the time to really get into wrestling history - and we commend that. But, whatever age you are, if you're a new fan to this great industry and want to learn more about the history, here are fifteen great moments you can find on either the WWE Network or YouTube to start with,
15 Austin 3:16
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin may very well be the greatest money draw in the history of wrestling. At the height of his popularity, fans were buying tickets to WWE events simply because Austin was scheduled to be there. Even today, fans are hoping for "one more match" from the Texas Rattlesnake (spoiler alert: never happening). But, if there's one moment that sums up what the SCSA character is all about, it's this.
Austin - who just morphed out of his horrific "Ringmaster" gimmick and was still a heel - had just beaten Jake "The Snake" Roberts - who had returned to the WWE with a comeback, pious Born Again Christian persona - to win the 1996 King of the Ring tournament. This speech led to more t-shirt sales, signs and crowd chanting that would never be seen again - until Austin said "what?" that one time.
14 "I respect you.... Booker man!"
During the latter part of his career, Brian Pillman could be considered the Deadpool of pro wrestling: unhinged, violent and breaking the "fourth wall". Pillman was one of the first to mess with standard pro wrestling conventions, especially in this instance when he was slated to face Kevin Sullivan (no relation) in a "I Respect You" strap match.
Per the stipulation, the loser of the match (who is supposed to be attached to the other with a leather strap, by the way) was required to get on the microphone and say "I respect you" to their opponent. That, in general, sounds like a really stupid stipulation. WCW, everybody. Anyway, less than a minute into the match and before the strap could even be attached, Pillman stopped, grabbed a mic and shouted "I respect you... BOOKER MAN!". Sullivan, at the time, was the "booker" - the person who essentially wrote the story lines in the organization.
Any time that pro wrestling makes reference to behind the scenes shenanigans - from any stupid time Vince Russo did it to CM Punk's "pipe bomb" - you can thank this one moment.
13 Vince McMahon buys WCW
WWE/WWF vs NWA/WCW had been on the minds of wrestling fans well before the Monday Night Wars. Who would win between Sting and Hulk Hogan? Who was the better tag team, The Hart Foundation or the Steiner Brothers? Could Demolition beat The Road Warriors? Could Mantaur beat The Shockmaster? WE NEEDED ANSWERS!
What we never expected to see was one of the two companies going out of business altogether. So, when WCW imploded and WWE bought the company - and the Invasion came and fizzled away and the last big WCW "holdout", Sting, eventually signed with WWE - that was the end of that particular dream booking.
12 Ron Simmons Wins the WCW title
WWE Hall of Famer Ron Simmons may be known to newer fans at the big man who yells "Damn!" on WWE TV every now and then. Or as a member of the APA with JBL - which was awesome. But, on August 2nd, 2002, Ron Simmons became a very important part of pro wrestling history.
On that date, Simmons pinned Big Van Vader to become the first black world champion of a major world promotion. He deserved it, too. Not only was he a college football legend and a former WCW Tag Team champion, but he was one of the most popular wrestlers in WCW at the time - of any ethnicity.
11 Dusty Rhodes and His Legendary "Hard Times" Promo
The recent death of "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes was covered not just by wrestling news outlets, but mainstream ones, as well. Dusty Rhodes was one of those stars, like Hogan and Flair, whose charisma and talent led to recognition everywhere and influenced not just pro wrestlers, but entertainers in general.
Much has been said about Rhodes's legendary "hard times" promo, but it demonstrated just how his "working man" persona connected with audiences all over the world. Listen to the promos of Steve Austin or Dean Ambrose and you'll hear the voice of Dusty Rhodes behind them.
10 Undertaker Tosses Mick Foley Off of the HIAC Cage
Nearly a year before Owen Hart's accident, Mick Foley pulled off a stunt so unheard of at the time, that it possibly raised the bar for spectacle in the wrestling business for years to come. In 1998, Foley (as Mankind) fought The Undertaker in a Hall In A Cell match at the King Of The Ring PPV. When fans saw the competitors starting the match on top of the cage, they knew something was up. They could never have expected what followed.
Minutes after the match began, Undertaker tossed Mankind off the fifteen foot cage, onto the floor and through a table. And, no, the match didn't end there. Mankind would climb back up to the top of the cage, only to be thrown through the roof and onto the mat. And, no, the match didn't end there, either. Undertaker would eventually go on to win the match and both would end up as two of the biggest legends in the business.
9 Jim Ross Announces the Death of Owen Hart
Just recently, WWE released a DVD retrospective of the career of Owen Hart. The brother of Bret Hart, Owen was just as respected and nearly as decorated a wrestler as his brother. With Bret in WCW, Owen had the chance to really make a name for himself in the WWF. Then, on May 23rd, 1999, the worst tragedy in wrestling history happened. During a stunt that involved Hart being lowered from the rafters in a harness, the rigging came loose and Hart fell to the ring to his death.
We don't want to dwell on the circumstances of the accident or the aftermath. What we do want to do is to highlight the handling of everything by the announcers of the evening, Jerry "The King" Lawler and, especially, Jim Ross. Staying calm and composed as best they could, the announce team informed the viewers at home exactly what happened to one of the greatest of all time.
8 Hulk Hogan's WCW parade
If there was ever a moment during the 1990s in wrestling history that was more seemingly unlikely than Ric Flair wrestling in the WWE, it was this. In 1994, Hogan was seemingly done with wrestling, content to make terrible movies and a terrible television show. Then, WCW Executive Producer Eric Bischoff made him an offer he couldn't refuse and, like that, Hogan was in WCW.
To emphasize what a big deal this was, WCW held a parade in Hogan's honor through Walt Disney World, leading him through a fog of yellow and red confetti to his contract signing.
7 ECW Invades Monday Night Raw
As the expression goes, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." By that thinking, the WWE and the Paul Heyman-run Extreme Championship Wrestling were better friends than Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. They both had plenty of reasons to despise World Championship Wrestling and, in 1997, Vince invited Heyman to bring some of his ECW guys to appear on an episode of Monday Night Raw.
ECW never really became a major threat to either WWE or WCW before closing for good in 2001. But, their influence on the product - both then and now - is immeasurable. And, it paved the way for the somewhat-friendly relations WWE has with some of the smaller companies around the country today.
6 Scott Hall Returns to WCW in 1996
While Scott Hall made himself a household name in the 1990s as Razor Ramon in the WWE, he had previously been in WCW as The Diamond Studd. If that name doesn't ring a bell, we're not surprised - it didn't go over very well. So, when Hall left the WWE for WCW in 1996, fans couldn't be blamed for thinking it was his WCW "debut".
By arriving on WCW TV, using the same mannerisms he had as Razor, Hall gave the impression that he was an "invader" from the WWE. This led to Kevin Nash (formerly Diesel in the WWE and who also had a similar lackluster start as Hall did in WCW) arriving shortly after - and then forming the New World Order with another former WWF guy, Hulk Hogan. You may have heard of it.
5 Shawn Michaels On Marty Janetty During "The Barber Shop"
"The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels is an important figure in modern pro wrestling history (and not just because he was involved in the Montreal Screwjob thing we can't seem to stop mentioning). Before he was "Mr. Wrestlemania" or founding Degeneration X, he was involved in one of the greatest eras in tag team wrestling as one half of The Rockers with Marty Jannetty.
While The Rockers were one of the most popular tag teams of the 1980s and 1990s, they never had an official World Tag Title reign. By 1992, it was evident it was time to break the team up. On an edition of Brutus Beefcake's interview segment "The Barber Shop" (which took place in a replica of an actual barber shop, complete with shop window), Michaels turned and kicked his partner in the chin and - in a display of violence not usually seen in the company at the time - literally threw his now-former partner through said window.
4 Ric Flair Debuts in WWE - With the NWA World Title Belt
One of the reasons Vince was so desperate to get the WWE title off Bret Hart during the aforementioned Montreal Screwjob was because he didn't want to risk the chance of his company's title belt being used on WCW TV. Partly because WCW had done it before, with Madusa and the Women's title. But also because the shoe had been on the other foot years earlier, when Ric Flair made his WWE debut in 1991.
After a heated contract dispute with WCW, Flair left his decades-long home and jumped ship. Because WCW refused to return a deposit Flair had made upon gaining the belt, he simply took it with him, and appeared with it on WWE TV - proclaiming himself the "real" world champion.
3 Bruno Sammartino Wins The WWWF Title From Buddy Rogers
Vincent Kennedy McMahon wasn't the first in his family to make waves among the pro wrestling establishment. In the 1960s and 70s, the company (then known as the Capitol Wrestling Federation, followed by the World Wide Wrestling Federation) was run by his father, Vincent James McMahon. In 1963, McMahon and his partner, Toots Mondt (ah, the olden days and their awesome names), founded the company after splitting from the National Wrestling Alliance.
In order to compete with the NWA, McMahon's company would need a huge star to build the company around (like his son did after him). Their first choice? Former NWA champion "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers. However, health issues with Rogers forced them to move the belt to someone else. That someone was Italian powerlifter Bruno Sammartino. The rest was history.
2 Hulk Hogan beats The Iron Sheik for the WWE Title
WWE might have a pretty solid reason for wanting to distance themselves from The Hulkster these days, but he's still a big reason why they're as successful as they are today. When Vince McMahon began taking the WWE out of the territorial mindset of the past and going national, he needed a larger-than-life, charismatic superhero whose shoulders he could put the company on.
So, he took the company's championship off Bob Backlund (a legend in his own right) and put it on at-the-time Übervillain The Iron Sheik - only to turn around and put it on the "Real American" Hulk Hogan. Combine that with a partnership with the then-emerging MTV and you had one of the most 1980s things ever.
1 The Montreal Screwjob
Even newer fans have heard about the Attitude Era ad naseum at this point, but it's easy to understand why. Pro wrestling was never "cooler" or more successful than during this point and while going back to that style of "edgy" content may be off the table for now, it's that level of success that the business is aiming for as best they can.
Without going too in depth as to what led up to the infamous "Montreal Screwjob", we can look back as to what it meant for the business as a whole. The entire incident happened mostly because the then-WWE simply didn't have the resources to afford a big name like Bret Hart anymore. While the Screwjob showed just how desperate the WWE was at the time, it also showed what they were willing to do in order to compete with the resources they had. And this is why it's often considered the real start of the Attitude Era.