There’s no question being a fan of Pro Wrestling is an acquired taste. One does not just pick it up and start watching it the way you can, say, a network TV sitcom or a cable TV drama. There is an initial shock factor that comes with actually sitting down and sitting through a Pro Wrestling show. Your first reaction is likely to say “what is this…besides stupid?”
But it’s insidious, wrestling is, the way it creeps into your subconscious. Without wanting to you can find yourself rooting for a particular hero or against a particular villain. A certain character may break through that wall you’ve erected---the one that separates what you laugh at from what you laugh with---and before you know it you’re buying a light-up unicorn headband you wondering what happened to your life.
It’s easier to become a fan in younger years, where kids who share in the fandom can band together, talking up their favorite superstars and speculating about what will come next in the saga of whoever is champion at the time. In the late-90s it was high schoolers who defined a generation of pro wrestling fans; we were drawn to the helter-skelter plotting, with sudden twists and turns and betrayals and alliances, oh and all the boobs probably had something to do with it.
That said, there are a few black marks in the (somewhat recent) history of the pseudo-sport that made it nigh-impossible to claim allegiance to “sports entertainment.” Here are fifteen of the most facepalm-inducing moments that made even the most die-hard fan cringe and, if not swear off the product entirely, then at least pretend he was over it. These are 15 moments that simply made us ashamed to say “oh yeah, I watch him/her/that every week. Sometimes twice!”
14 15. HOGAN HAS A SEXTAPE, GOD HELP US ALL
13 14. THE GRAVY BOWL MATCH
These days, women’s wrestling is treated with a measure of class but it wasn’t too long ago that the so-called “divas” of WWE were relegated to being strictly eye-candy for the critical 18-25 male demographic. More will be said later about how women were mistreated but there’s one particular embarrassment that deserves its own consideration: On Thanksgiving, SmackDown---which aired on the holiday for a number of years--- there would occasionally be a “Gravy Bowl” Match, wherein two scantily-clad divas would wrestle in a kiddie pool filled with the stuff. Think “mud wrestling” but tastier and more seasonally-appropriate.
12 13. MONDAY NIGHT SHATNER!
11 12. THE PLANE-RIDE FROM HELL
10 11. THE STEROID SCANDAL
9 10. DAVID ARQUETTE, CHAMPIONSHIP MATERIAL
8 9. WOMEN ARE OBJECTS...GOOD LUCK BOYFRIENDS!
The Attitude Era frequently featured Bra and Panties Matches, Evening Gown Matches, Cat fight Matches, Mud Wrestling Matches, and more. Any opportunity to get the Divas either (A) wearing as little as possible, or (B) soaking wet (or both!) was worth whatever self-esteem sapping happened as a result. Even when the company switched to TV-PG, the mishandling of the female roster continued. For years a divas match was a short, pointless excursion, designed to give the live audience at home a bathroom break and the home audience a chance to see the opposite gender in their underwear for a change.
7 8. PIGGY JAMES, FARTING NATTY AND MORE
One last point to make about how poorly the divas were treated for so long: It was not uncommon for some divas to fall out of favor with the creative team and/or Vince McMahon. Such things happened with the male performers too, but with the men, they simply slid down the card and jobbed out to lesser performers. With the women, their punishment was more personal: Mickie James’ feud with Michelle McCool led to the moniker “Piggy James” being stuck to her, in a mockery of her weight (which is stupid since she’s gorgeous).
6 7. MICK FOLEY GOES BEYOND THE MAT
At the time the Beyond the Mat documentary was released, the word “embarrassing” was not the word tossed around to describe it. “Shocking” was more likely to be the audience’s reaction. The sight of broken down old Terry Funk and drug-addled Jake Roberts trying not to die was tough to sit through, but the real eye-opening moment came from seeing Mick Foley take a dozen unprotected chair shots to the head during his I Quit Match with the Rock at the Royal Rumble. Beyond the Mat goes a step further to record the horror-struck faces of Foley’s family as they sat and watched Mick take his beating.
5 6. HULK HOGAN IS RAAAACIST
The real story to come out of Hogan’s sextape fiasco was not his “python” (brother), it was his very foul mouth. The tape in question (which included more than the, eh hem…main event performance), contained a minutes-long rant by the Hulkster, who goes off on the fact that his daughter was dating a black man. A portion of the dialogue included this statement: “I mean, I’d rather if she was going to f–k some n—r, I’d rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall n—r worth a hundred million dollars! Like a basketball player! I guess we’re all a little racist. F–king n—r.”
4 5. WWE IS RAAAACIST
After Hogan’s racist rant was leaked the company moved swiftly to terminate their relationship with him, scrub any non-historical reference of him from their website and forbid commentary or performer from uttering his name. Obviously they didn’t want to be associated with a known racist. Except for Michael Hayes, who once (drunkenly) told Mark Henry, quote: “I’m more of a n---r than you are!” That’s the same Michael Hayes (of Confederate Flag-toting Freebirds fame) who used his primo spot in the upper echelon of WWE to give the same Mark Henry the nickname “The Silverback Gorilla” (which was repeated multiple times, on camera, by commentators…for months!).
3 4. "9/11 IS LIKE THE STEROID TRIAL, HEAR ME OUT..."
2 3. VINCE McMAHON vs. THE CHRISTIANS' GOD
A freak accident in 1998, broke (literally) Shawn Michaels and forced him to retire from pro wrestling. During his time away, Shawn “found Jesus,” gave up his hard-partying and mean-spirited ways and settled down to a contented, married life. When he was healthy enough, Michaels returned to wrestling a newer, happier, kinder man and embarked on a second Hall of Fame career, proving that people can change and that good men can still have success.
1 2. BENOIT, OBVIOUSLY
In the end, let’s be honest here: Pro Wrestling fans are desensitized to what it is they watch every week. We don’t even notice anymore that we’re staring at oiled-up, muscled-up, male models rolling around, pretend-fighting in their underwear. Growing up, seeing two bikini-clad supermodels throwing hands in a giant tub of gravy was as normal a Thanksgiving tradition as watching the Cowboys and Lions on TV. You just don’t notice it anymore…until you invite a non-fan over to your house.
Then suddenly every promo by a midget in a bull costume has to be talked-over by you, so you can explain just why a midget in a bull costume is on TV at all, and also so that they don’t actually listen to the cringy and awkward promo. There isn’t one show in the history of pro wrestling that doesn’t feature something a non-fan would laugh at. It’s a silly and occasionally terribly embarrassing fake sport.
And I love it.
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