With school starting, wrestling promotions kick into high gear in September to keep fan interest. With September also the start of a new TV season, shows are filled with hot-shot angles and five star matches. With ECW, WCW, and WWE all running pay per views and hours (and hours) of TV during the wrestling renaissance (1999-2001), it is mind numbing trying to number all the great matches and moments even if limiting to just those taking place in September.
With only 15 slots, there are many epic September moments which won’t make the list many taking place at Madison Square Garden. The first Dusty Rhodes versus Superstar Graham match sold out MSG and the Felt Forum in 1977. Two years later in 1979, Bob Backlund defeated Pat Patterson in bloodbath catch match. In 1980 MSG hosted a rare champion vs. champion battle as WWWF champ Bob Backlund tangled with with NWA champ Harley Race. On the same card, Hulk Hogan put over Andre at MSG, but not before body slamming him (seven years before doing it for the first time at WMIII). Bobby Heenan made his MSG manager debut in 1984, while Road Warriors made theirs in 1990. ECW, which once held shows in the nearby way smaller Manhattan Center came live from MSG in 152006, albeit as a WWE brand. Oh, there’s the first live Raw in 1997 (see #7).
In the days of regional promotions, September saw the blow off of feuds in outdoor venues or larger arenas. In Texas, the Von Erich and Freebirds battled at Labor Day big building shows. In Florida, the Battle of the Belts featured not just a climatic NWA title match, but champions from other promotions defending their straps. The WWWF ran Shea Stadium for the first time in September 1973 as champ Pedro Morales battled former champ Bruno Sammartino to a 65 minute draw. Years later on Smackdown in September 2003, Brock Lesnar defeated Kurt Angle for the WWE title in a 60 minutes Iron Man match blowing off their rivalry.
While there are many great wrestling moments that shocked September, here are the top 15 that fans should never forget:
15 Stone Cold Returns Following Nine Month Absence
Stone Cold Steve Austin had been written off WWE television since November of 1999, as complications from his 1997 neck injury had re-surfaced and he needed surgery. It was unknown for a while if Austin would ever return to the ring, but he finally made his return to WWE programming in September of 2000. The angle of "who ran over Stone Cold?" would dominate WWE storylines following his return and the WWE finally had all its major stars healthy in its most successful financial year.
14 EMLL Promotes First Show in Mexico
On 21 September 1933, Salvador Lutteroth opened up the Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (EMLL) at a small arena in Mexico City. Thanks to the arrival of masked wrestlers a few years later, EMLL was the dominant promotion in Mexico for decades. Every Mexican wrestler of note, from El Santo to Gory Guerrero up to Konan and Mistico, appeared in the promotion, often as a headliner for the annual September anniversary show. While changes have been many in the promotion, including the name to Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL), the anniversary shows remain a constant. The 81st such show in 2014 saw CMLL draw a million dollar gate for the Atlantis vs Ultimate Guerrero Luchas de Apuestas (Mask vs Mask) main event, a far cry from a few hundred filled seats in September 1933.
13 Eric Bischoff Awards Triple H the “World Title”
For as many times that Vince McMahon gets called a genius, there’s ample evidence of bad booking decisions leaving dollars on the table. After botching both the Invasion angle and the return of the nWo, in September 2002 McMahon had an opportunity to draw money and/or create a new star. Upon winning the WWE title, Brock Lesnar “signed” to appear only on Smackdown brand, thus leaving Raw without a championship. Did McMahon hold a multi-week tournament on Raw? No. A one-time pay per view event? No. Catapult a new wrestler to the top slot? Again, no. Instead on the September 2nd edition of Raw, GM Eric Bischoff handed the already over (and over exposed) Triple H the newly created “World Title”. Hunter then promptly defeated Ric Flair that night, rather building to a teacher versus student PPV angle. Vince left money on the table by dropping the belt into his soon to be son-in-law’s paws.
12 Taz leaves ECW
It seemed that ECW might finally be getting a break signing a national cable deal just in time to promote their September 19, 1999 Anarchy Rulz pay-per-view. That PPV, like many before, was set to feature Taz, the ECW champ and face of the company. Except, WWE came calling, and like a Road Runner, Taz took off. At the PPV, Taz stood in the ring for his title match against Masato Tanaka only to spot Mike Awesome in the audience, whom Taz invited into the match. Awesome defeated the human suplex machine who had a nine month unbeaten streak. While other talent had left ECW previously, Taz departing the company despite it getting a national cable deal, was the first hard tap of the nail pounded in the ECW coffin.
11 “This is your life”
By fall 1999, Raw had passed Nitro in the ratings, yet the competition remained intense. Every segment of each show was booked to achieve the highest possible ratings, in particular the “over run” segment. While WWE pulled ahead for many reasons, the rise of The Rock, stood front and center. His feud with Mankind made him a main eventer, but his pairing with Foley in the Rock n' Sock Connection took his character to a new level. On the 27 September Raw, Mankind and Rock were given a segment for a “This is Your Life” skit. When they returned backstage, Vince wasn’t happy with the content or length, but when the rating came in at 8.4, Vince added his error as the segment was, according to Foley, “the highest-rated head-to-head wrestling segment in history.”
10 TNA Announces Signing of Kurt Angle
The promotional screw-ups of TNA would fill a top five hundred list, but near the top would be the use of Kurt Angle. Angle, who’d been let go from the WWE after his transfer to the ECW brand, said he was done with pro wrestling. Angle said he’d start training for MMA despite the fact he’d left the WWE due to drug and injury issues. At the 24 September 2006 No Surrender PPV, Dixie Carter announced (for the first of five hundred times) a signing that would change the face of TNA, then a video of Kurt training inside the TNA ring played. While Angle’s feud with then TNA Champ Samoa Joe caused a rating jump and a PPV bump, it wouldn’t last.
With Angle, as with other WWE main eventers to follow (Foley, Flair, Hogan, Nash, et al) TNA showed they were not only clueless on how to make new stars, but well versed in diminishing the drawing power of former stars.
9 Inoki / Baba Debuts in Japan
On 30 September 1960, two young Japanese wrestlers debuted. Inside of the ring one would win (Giant Baba) while the other would lose (Antonio Inoki). Outside the ring, a real life feud lasting 30 plus years, began. Frustrated with his lack of push, Inoki started his own promotion which folded in due time. He returned to JWA, teamed with Baba, but was ousted after a failed coup in 1971. Inoki bounced back starting New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1972, a promotion which remains strong to this day. The same year, Baba would form All Japan Pro Wrestling and the rest is professional wrestling history of five star matches, top stars, and huge crowds all stemming for an ordinary day September in 1960.
8 Ric Flair Debuts in WWE
Ric Flair was already a legend in the wrestling business, but many had long anticipated a possible move to the WWE. Flair made the jump in 1991 after a dispute with WCW management, bringing their world title with him and branding himself the "Real World's Champion". Flair wouldn't last too long in WWE and a dream match with Hogan never followed, but it still was surreal for arguably the greatest wrestler ever to step into the big stage of the WWE.
7 Pat Patterson Debuts The Intercontinental Title
Sadly no video exists of Patterson’s win of the title after grueling 1979 tournament in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, perhaps because it never happened. Patterson set the standard (Pedro Morales as an exception) for the IC belt as the “worker” title. In early WWF, while clumsy but charismatic workers like Bob Backlund and Hulk Hogan held the world belt, the IC went to guys who could go like Tito Santana, Ricky Steamboat, and Randy Savage. That tradition ended abruptly with Honky Tonk Man, then Ultimate Warrior winning the strap, but rebounded with the likes of Shawn Michaels, Curt Hennig, and Bret Hart elevating the title. The IC’s place as the worker belt has long since diminished, documented by Ryback’s possession of it. Maybe the WWE needs another tourney in Brazil?
6 Steve Austin Stuns Vince McMahon
In summer 1997, Stone Cold Steve Austin was on fire, but his injury at SummerSlam almost meant an altered/shortened career. While kept out of the ring, Austin remained on TV stunning everyone in sight, except one person: Vince McMahon. While McMahon had yet to become a full time heel character – that would come after the Montreal screwjob – by 1997 he’d inserted himself into storylines. When Raw came live from Madison Square Garden on September 22nd 1997, the time and place was perfect.
When Austin went to attack Owen Hart, McMahon came into the ring to read to riot act to Austin. The Texas Rattlesnake responded with a stunner that blew the roof of MSG, even though Vince’s clumsy eye-twitching selling blew as well. Yet that Stunner was the first shot in Austin vs McMahon war. If new WWE fans delighted in that moment, the WWE debut of WCW/ECW Cactus Jack earlier that night thrilled hardcore fans almost as much that September evening.
5 Ric Flair Wins First NWA Title
For years in major league baseball, Reggie Jackson was dubbed “Mr. October” while in wrestling, Shawn Michaels is “Mr. WrestleMania.” There’s no doubt Ric Flair is “Mr. September.” With an unprecedented numbers of years, matches, title wins, and historic promos, this entire list could be a Flair moments. In addition to three listed, here’s a few left out: Flair loses NWA title to Ron Garvin in the beginning of the end of Jim Crockett promotions (1987), Flair appears on WWE television for the first time (1991), Flair wins WWE title from Randy Savage as transition champion for Bret Hart’s first title reign, (1992), Flair loses to HHH in Hunter’s first defense of new World Title (2002) and Flair loses (again) to Sting in Flair’s final match in TNA (2011) and what was most likely his final in-ring match for a major US promotion.
Flair’s first world championship reign (the 1st of 16 in the WWE history books) started with a thud on 17 September 1981. In a match that Flair calls “terrible” in his autobiography To Be the Man, Flair defeated Dusty Rhodes before a small, lackluster crowd in Kansas City. According to Flair, Dusty would only drop the belt in a town where he wasn’t a major star, not that he wanted to lose it in the first place. While once Flair idolized Dusty, this was the start of their in-ring and outside the ring feud. Rather than being thrilled, Flair wrote he felt leaving the arena with the belt like being an “actuary on a business trip.”
4 Ric Flair turns on Dusty Rhodes
While the first marriage of Rhodes and Flair didn’t produce box office, the Crockett circuit ignited after an angle in Atlanta on September 29th, 1985. Flair had successfully defended the NWA title, as a babyface, against Russian Menace Nikita Koloff inside a steel cage when he was jumped after the match by Uncle Ivan and Krusher Krushchev. But to the rescue came the American Dream Dusty Rhodes! While the Russians left the cage, into it stepped Flair allies Ole and Arn Anderson who attacked Dusty, leading to Flair “breaking” Dusty’s leg. The Flair/Rhodes feud resulted in sellouts, super promos, and served as the launch pad for the Four Horseman, the War Games, and galloons of blood spilled in NWA rings.
3 Ric Flair Returns to Nitro
While Flair was the centerpiece of Crockett promotions and early WCW, he wasn’t a favorite of new mid 1990’s WCW chief Eric Bischoff. While Flair and Sting headlined the first Nitro, the match was backdrop for the Luger / Hogan confrontation. Even though Flair consistently had great matches and moved ratings, he wasn’t in the right clique. Backstage politics turned real, Bischoff fired Flair for no-showing a date. The heat between Flair and Bischoff was well known thanks to newsletters and internet sites. When Flair came back to Nitro on 14 September 1998 in the middle of Horseman country, Greensboro NC, Flair cut a classic promo (“Bischoff…! You are liar! You’re a cheat! You’re a scam…Fire Me! I’m already fired!”). By the time Flair wrestled Sting on the last Nitro, he probably wished he would’ve stayed fired and not suffered through the Viking funeral that was WCW’s last years.
2 Smackdown 9/11 Show
WWE was in Texas on Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001, preparing for a Smackdown taping in Houston. Deep into the Invasion angle, each episode of wrestling was water cooler talk. But all that stopped for a few days with the terrorist attack on the United States. McMahon cancelled the taping, but then put on a live show two days later, the first major live event in the U.S. since the attacks. While lauded endlessly in WWE lore – it was ranked as the number one moment in Smackdown history – this show does remains memorable. Starting with a patriotic speech by McMahon, followed by all the performers in the runway waving American flags and standing with hands over their hearts while Lillian Garcia sang the Star Spangled Banner to then babyface All American Hero Kurt Angle winning the final match, this was one of the WWE’s finest (two hours).
1 The Monday Night War Begins
You can’t have a war with only one side, so WCW fired the first shot on September 4th, 1995 from the Mall of America in Bloomington MN with the airing of the first episode of Monday Nitro. With the WWE off for a dog show (yes, really, that used to happen), WCW drew a more than respectable (for the time) 2.5 rating. The next week (September 11, how weird is that?), the two shows battled head to head with Raw winning by only .01 ratings point. The ratings bounced back and forth until the super-heated 2006 NWO angle shot WCW to an almost two year run of wins and an expanding wrestling audience. That 9/11/1995 head-to-head show saw Raw pull in 2.5 share with Nitro trailing with 2.4. By 1999, both programs drew over 4.0 rating. September 1995 is one to remember as the start of the Monday Night Wars leading to the wrestling renaissance.