When the tradition of big Thanksgiving weekend shows morphed into cable era pay per views, the month of November has given fans a great deal to be thankful for and a few moments that were real turkeys.
For example, two of the WWE’s biggest stars debuted sixteen years apart at Survivor Series events. The Undertaker first walked (slowly, very slowly) down the aisle in November 1990 at the Hartford Civic Center. Introduced by Ted DiBiase as his “mystery partner” and accompanied to the ring by short-term manager Brother Love, The Undertaker was over from day one. With Roddy Piper throwing out meat references (“look at the size of that ham-hock”) and Gorilla Monsoon raving about his size coupled with the Andre the Giant trick of camera shots making him appear huge, The Undertaker looked the part of a monster. While the music, outfit, tattoos, and hair color have changed over time, the “aura” of the Undertaker’s entrance remains intact since that first night in Hartford. But not all debuts go as planned. Sixteen years later down the road at Madison Square Garden saw the debut of Rocky Maivia, which couldn’t have been more different. The third generation “blue chipper” was booed out of MSG, which would have been fine if he hadn’t been groomed as a “white meat baby face.”
Yet, Rock’s flop wasn’t the first one for the McMahon family at MSG. Fifty years earlier in November 1956 Vince James McMahon’s first show at the arena, headlined by Dick the Bruiser vs Antonio Rocca, drew just over 10,000 fans / $30,000 gate. Things got better as a few years later also in November, the same two wrestlers as part of tag match would sell out the arena but a bloody finish resulted in a riot. As a consequence, children were banned from attending MSG shows for years. When they were readmitted, McMahon pitched his product to them. He just needed a great character for kids to love.
Thus, the all-time November to dis-remember moment occurred on the same night of The Undertaker’s debut. After months of build-up, a giant egg was broken, and then laid, when the Goobly Gooker emerged. Hearing Gene Okerlund talk about selling the moment on a Legends of Wrestling show is far more entertaining than this non-event. Yet even more than these debuts, Novembers have seen historic title changes, significant big events, but also shoots and screw jobs, both in and outside of the ring.
15 Nick Bockwinkel ends the seven year run of Verne Gagne as AWA World Champion
Back in the day, AWA title was “on-par” with WWE and NWA titles. It was thus newsworthy when AWA owner (Verne Gagne) decided that the AWA booker (Verne Gagne) should have the AWA champion drop the strap on November 8, 1975 in St Paul to Bockwinkel. In retrospect, despite Bockwinkel’s skill, he was a 20 year veteran / over 40 when he won the title. While later Bockwinkel helped get Hulk Hogan over, it was Gagne’s use of older non-steroided-up wrestlers like Bockwinkel, along with some bad business decisions, which lead to the end of his promotion after a thirty year run. Speaking of bad business decisions, Gagne would give himself the title back in five years, hold it for another year, and then retire without putting anyone over.
14 ECW’s 1994 November to Remember
Similar, while ECW was never on the same level as WCW and WWE, one ECW moment should be included. While not running pay per views in the mid 1990’s, storylines built and peaked with big cards at the ECW arena. For 1994’s November to Remember show, Paul Heyman took the Tolos / Blassie blinding angle to a new level. Month earlier, Tommy Dreamer had blinded Sandman forcing the end of Sandman’s career. But at the November 5 show during Sandman’s retirement ceremony, lo and behold, Sandman wasn’t blinded. He faked the whole thing in a great angle also involving Woman (at that time, Nancy Sullivan). On the same card, Woman’s future husband/ killer Chris Benoit broke Sabu’s neck in a spot gone wrong forcing the end of the match, and almost the end of Sabu’s career. Finally, the card was loaded with ECW mainstays like Dreamer, Sandman, Sabu, as well as Taz, 2 Cold Scorpio, The Public Enemy, Dean Malenko, Cactus Jack, and Mickey Whipwreck. Much of this roster wouldn’t be around for November to Remember 1995 having been signed by WCW who was loading up talent for Nitro and the Monday Night Wars.
13 T12. The end of the Invasion
The WCW / ECW invasion angle is memorable more for how well it could / should have been executed rather than how successful it was at the time. The undercard of this climatic 2001 Survivor Series show sought to unify all the titles. The main event featured a “winner take all” stipulation with Team WWE battling Team Alliance (which was filled with WWE wrestlers) for which promotion would survive. In a surprise to no single wrestling fan on the planet, the WWE team won when The Rock pinned Steve Austin (who has a heel had joined the evil Alliance) thus ending a storyline that could have gone on for a year in half that time.
12 T12. Raw reset
One might have thought Vince Russo came back to over-book the Raw after that 2001 Survivor Series show. Stipulations from the night before were junked as several “fired” Alliance wrestlers had jobs. Mick Foley resigned as Commissioner only to be replaced in the authority figure role by the surprise WWE return of Ric Flair (the show was in Charlotte NC so there was a huge pop). The Vince McMahon “Kiss My Ass Club” welcomed Steven Regal as charter member. Paul Heyman lost his job; Jerry Lawler returned to reclaim his. The four way tournament to crown undisputed champion was set-up. Oh, and Steve Austin turned babyface for no reason other than his heel turn since WrestleMania never caught on, even if the “What” chant born of that time period remains to this day. What? Stays on. What? Endures.
11 Fabulous Moolah, disguised as The Spider Lady, defeats Wendi Richter to win the WWE Womens’ Championship
This was the first McMahon November screw job to get a championship belt off of someone. Pushed to the moon as “150 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal” Richter’s hype and head expanded at the same time, which she thought should result in more money. Scheduled to wrestle the masked Spider Lady in Madison Square Garden in November 1985, only in the ring did Richter discover it was Moolah under the hood. How much of the match was a shoot was hard to tell, but the quick count by the ref seems to have surprised Richter, yet after, she continued to work. By giving Moolah the belt, whatever chance McMahon had to make women’s wrestling hip got pinned as well that night at MSG. One note: not on the card that night was Bret Hart, he was wrestling in Florida. If only he had known.
10 Ted Turner signs papers officially buying and Jim Crockett Promotions
Crockett Promotions had been around since 1931, but wouldn’t make it past November 1988. Despite having a far better wrestling product, the southern based wrestling company could never really compete with the WWE on the national stage. There are plenty of reasons Crockett was forced to sell (see number three of this list) but he couldn’t have picked a better buyer than Turner. Turner was personally committed to wrestling and wanted it on his network. While it was never financed at a high level, nor managed well, the Turner version, dubbed World Championship Wrestling, provided an alternative to the cartoon world of Hulk Hogan. If Turner had not bought it, perhaps McMahon would have done so and thus the Monday Night Wars never would have occurred. What if?
9 AAA, IWC, and WCW presented When Worlds Collide
This November 6, 1994 show was a night of firsts. It was the first time a non-US based wrestling company would put on a pay per view. For Mike Tenay, who later went on to fame at WCW and TNA, it was his first time behind the mic. For most US fans, it was their first time seeing Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit in action. A great deal of the Mexican talent on the card such as La Parka, Rey Misterio Jr., Konan, and Psicosis were also new to US eyes. The mask vs. hair (Luchas de Apuestas ) two out of three fall tag match match which pitted Eddie and his partner Art Barr against Octagón and El Hijo del Santo was given five stars in Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer. Meltzer wrote that it was an "incredible… ranks as one of the greatest matches in PPV history.” Yet, oddly, it was one of the few PPVs not available on the WWE Network, even though the rights to it were owned by WCW.
8 Akira Maeda shoots on Riki Choshu
With Choshu’s hands occupied applying a scorpion death lock / sharpshooter, Maeda came into the ring and kicked him hard in the face. This shoot kick from November 1987 was heard around the world, figuratively speaking. Maeda was suspended, but soon left New Japan to reform the UWF, a worked shoot promotion he’d starred in a few years earlier. In November 1988, Maeda’s payback arrived. Not. Instead he was rewarded when the UWF, with Maeda in the main event, drew over 60,000 fans to the Tokyo Dome. Vince McMahon’s shoots would find him financially rewarded (see number one on this list). Wrestling is not a very fair business.
7 The National Wrestling Alliance recognizes Lou Thesz as its World heavyweight champion.
In early 1948, a group of powerful promoters came together to form the National Wrestling Alliance. The primary goal of the group (later compared to the mafia) was to recognize one world champion, that being Orville Brown. Meanwhile, in St Louis, the NWA promoter Sam Muchnick was at war with National Wrestling Association which recognized Lou Thesz as champion. Once the war ended, a unification match to crown the first undisputed champion was arranged. Brown, however, was hurt in a car crash and the match was cancelled. The NWA instead named Thesz champion. For the next seven years, Thesz defeated champions in other areas making the NWA the title, which it would remain until the rise of Dusty Rhodes booking it and Ronnie Garvin winning it.
6 Vince McMahon indicted
In November 1993, McMahon (and the then WWF) were indicted on Federal charges that they conspired for years to distribute illegal anabolic steroids to wrestlers. The indictment stemmed from an earlier investigation and conviction of a WWE ringside doctor / drug dealer Dr. George Zahorian in 1991. The case would go to trial in summer 1994 ending with McMahon being found not guilty of being involved. Really? How could a person who micro-managed his company on everything else have no role in the primary reason his company was successful: steroid filled performers. Whatever. Earlier the question was posed “what if” McMahon had purchased Jim Crockett Promotion in 1988, but this is a “what if” query on steroids. What if the Feds made their case and convicted McMahon? Would it have been the end of the WWE? The demise of pro wrestling or just the end of sports entertainment? One other question: what would McMahon look like in an orange jump suit?
5 The first Starrcade
The November 1983 event certainly was not the first Super Card, or the first wrestling show available closed circuit. When main events at Madison Square Garden sold old, the nearby Felt Forum Theater showed the matches on the screen. Infamously, the Muhammad Ali mixed martial arts match / fiasco against Antonio Inoki, was available closed circuit, not that anyone bought it. But interest in Starrcade, in particular the main event of Ric Flair trying to retain the NWA title from Harley Race was so robust that Crockett Promotions rented theaters all over the south. Attendance was strong, drawing 15,000 in the Greensboro Coliseum and 300,000 in the closed circuit locations despite a powerful snow storm. The first Starrcade, however, might have been the last as Race writes in his autobiography that Vince McMahon offered him a big check to no show the event. No doubt the success of Starrcade spurred McMahon to use the same distribution method for the first WrestleMania, but with national scope and much greater success.
4 The first Ultimate Fighting Championship
Yes, these are top moments in pro wrestling, but the impact of MMA on the biz – both in North America and Japan – is huge. Despite what McMahon-land says, MMA does cut into the WWE audience. It also takes talent that two decades ago might have joined the worked sport and instead entered the Octagon. UFC 1 took place in Denver on November 12, 1993. It featured a tournament format with few rules, no weight classes, and no time limits. Rorion Gracie picked his younger brother Royce to represent the family and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu (BJJ). In the first round Gracie submitted boxer Patrick Smith in less than two minutes. Gracie took down Ken Shamrock with a choke hold in less than a minute in the second round. When Gracie won the tournament by submitting karate expert Gerard Gordeau, his family proved two things: that BJJ was the best fighting system, and that people would pay to see this “bloodsport” of real fights where dropping a leg on someone’s chest wasn’t an option.
3 WWF presents Survivor Series in direct competition to Jim Crockett’s Starrcade
Having distributed Starrcade on closed circuit, Crockett moved to pay per view in 1987 for his Thanksgiving Day tradition. Deep in debt with lots of guaranteed contracts, Crocket planned for a big money gate to dig him out of his hole. Instead, Vince McMahon hit him with shovel. McMahon created / scheduled the first Survivor Series for the same time. No problem, Crockett said, we’ll move our event earlier and the cable companies loved it: two shows, one after another, bringing in double revenue. Then McMahon went all mafia, using an extortion tactic that made the old NWA look tame in comparison. McMahon announced that any cable company which ran the Crockett show would not be allowed to air WrestleMania IV. Given the huge success of WMIII, that was putting a gun to the head of the cable companies. Most folded to McMahon’s terms and a year later Crockett Promotion would fold too.
2 T1. Montreal screw job
While some may point to Austin 3:16 in summer 1996 or the involvement of Mike Tyson in winter 1998, the November 1997 screw job in Montreal was the turning point in the Monday Night Wars; it just took a while for the full impact to occur. When Bret Hart refused to drop the WWE title to Shawn Michaels at the Survivor Series, it was time for plan B, or rather plan screw Bret. McMahon, Michaels, HHH, and others (who else was involved is JFK like conspiracy stuff) came up with a plan. McMahon told Hart he would not lose the title, instead the match would end in a disqualification. The wrestlers started with hard punches and kicks rather than holds. The action spilled out of the ring early as Hart battered Michaels. Once back in the ring, Michaels put Hart into Hart’s own submission hold The Sharpshooter. To everyone’s surprise, the ref said Hart submitted and ended the match. This lead directly to…
1 T1. McMahon says "Vince McMahon didn't screw Bret Hart. Bret screwed Bret.”
The Montreal Screw-Job was a turning point ONLY because of next week’s Monday Night Raw. There Vince McMahon, who had stopped doing commentary the month previous, stepped out of that character and laid the ground work for a new one: the evil boss Mr. McMahon. While that character would not totally flourish until matched with the right protagonist in Stone Cold Austin in April 1998, this was a huge moment in the history of the business. It didn’t break kayfabe; this shoot like interview destroyed it as McMahon talked about “time honored traditions” and other insider lingo. Much like the Maeda’s cheap shot kick on Choshu, McMahon’s breaking the trust that is cornerstone to the business, resulted in him getting rich and Bret getting buried in WCW. November is not a thankful moment for everyone.