Most of what we see during wrestling events is only the tip of the iceberg. So much more takes place backstage we never witness. These include everything from contract signings and walk outs to real feuds and medical emergencies. Yet somehow, no matter what happens backstage before or during every RAW, SmackDown, Pay-Per-View and house show, the WWE is still able to put out a finished product.
While compiling this list, one of the first things that came to mind was how all of these backstage moments affected the final product audiences. Certain questions came up such as, do real backstage feuds affect how wrestlers work together while in front of a live audience? Does a wrestler walking out prior to his or her segment affect how those programs play out, and does the WWE immediately turn its back on the star and move on? And can a wrestler have other aspirations beside wrestling, or does the company and locker room frown upon those ideas?
Based on how many people view the WWE’s current product–substandard compared to year’s past–the moments we’ll discuss shortly have spanned generations. For years, the WWE has not only spent considerable time producing a show, but also dousing out backstage issues. And for years, it’s somehow been able to keep the wheels turning even when star players like Bret Hart and Stone Cold walked out, putting incredible stress on the company to figure out contingency plans.
While we’ll cover 15 major moments, there are certainly plenty more that helped shape the WWE and many wrestlers’ careers. What did we miss? Were there any moments that should have been higher than others?
15. Officials Are in the Ear of Referees
Have you ever taken a close look at a WWE referee? Next time you do, you may see something right behind their ear that resembles something a TV broadcaster would wear. Just like a broadcaster, a WWE referee’s ear piece is not for show.
Behind the scenes, officials are working frantically to keep refs up-to-date on what’s happening next in a match. They inform the referee about major spots, where to stand and what to instruct the wrestlers to do.
14. Booker T and Batista’s Rivarly Heats Up at SummerSlam
While arguments and disputes are common in the wrestling world, some wrestlers just plain don’t like each other. This was the case between Booker T and Batista, and their rivalry eventually boiled over at the WWE’s 2006 SummerSlam commercial shoot in Encino, CA.
Both wrestlers fought while the team was filming a scene in the commercial, and it was described as a “brutal, bloody, vicious affair.” Director of WWE Television Promtions John Gaburick later said, “After the fight, Booker T and Batista went behind closed doors to try and clear the air.”
In Batista’s 2007 autobiography “Batista Unleashed,” he took blame for the incident saying the fight took place because he didn’t say hello to Booker and show respect to the veteran like he should have.
13. Two Giants Go at it in the Locker Room
Did you feel the earth quake sometime in early 2006? If you did, it wasn’t the earth’s crust naturally moving. It was The Big Show and Great Khali going at it backstage.
“I just got frustrated with him and we got in an argument, “Big Show said, “and it was the worst fight on the planet.”
Prior to the scuffle, Big Show questioned Khali’s commitment to the ring and his frustration boiled over into a titanic brawl where both men traded punches. Later, Big Show admitted he held no resentment toward Khali and called him a “great guy.”
12. Hollywood’s Lights Distract The Rock
One of the most interesting things about professional wrestling is how authentic in-ring rivalries actually are. Sure, the segments are scripted, but there’s been numerous instances where there was more to the in-ring action than meets the eye.
Take for example Triple H and The Rock, two of the biggest stars of the 1990s. While appearing on the Greg and the Morning Buzz radio show, Triple H recalled a time Vince McMahon suggested both stars make Hollywood movies. The Rock jumped at the opportunity while Triple H remained in the WWE. While The Game says he and The Rock are fine with each other, their decision to take different career paths has always caused “a bit of professional tension” between the two.
11. John Cena Thinks The Rock is a Fraud
While Cena and The Rock have reportedly buried the hatchet , both were at odds for a long time. This isn’t surprising considering the latter was the face of the WWE prior to John Cena taking over in the mid to late 2000s.
Cena criticized The Rock over his affiliation with Hollywood and because he infrequently showed up at WWE events.
“Associating with sports-entertainment doesn’t do much for his acting career,” Cena said. “It only helps out the sports-entertainment audience, so I get why he doesn’t come back. Just don’t [mess] me around and tell me that you love this. That’s the only thing that gets me really [ticked] off.”
The Rock later responded by saying Cena was only their “for the paycheck.”
10. Tensions Fly High Between Edge and Matt Hardy
Matt Hardy and Edge’s rivalry soared in the early 2000s when they help reinvent the ladder match. But it went to completely new, unexpected heights in 2005 when they became part of a real love triangle starring former WWE Diva Lita.
Hardy and Lita were still dating when he got injured and she began touring the U.S. with Edge. Eventually Lita and Edge became romantically involved, spilling Hardy and Edge’s contention for each other outside of the squared circle. Once Hardy healed, they let loose in the ring, putting together one of WWE’s most explosive–and real–rivalries to date.
9. Stone Cold and Vince McMahon’s Relationship Becomes Frosty
Stone Cold and Vince McMahon’s rivalry was as frosty in the ring as it was outside of it. By 2002, The Rattlesnake was one of the biggest stars in the company. Alongside the WWE, he had led a full on assault against his former employer, WCW, and defeated them.
However, by 2002, his attitude toward McMahon and his juggernaut company had turned sour because of creative indifferences. Austin’s top concern was how he was booked against Scott Hall at WrestleMania 18. To Austin, it was treated as “just some match on the card.” He’d feel the same about a similar situation about not wanting to put over newbie Brock Lesnar.
Jim Ross noted on the 2011 DVD “‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin: The Bottom Line on the Most Popular Superstar of All Time,” that on his way out, Austin was “burning the candle at both ends.”
Over time, and after McMahon fined Austin $200,000, the two reconciled the differences in a hotel meeting room.
8. WWE is Very Thorough Prior to Going Live
So we’re breaking the rules to discuss how the WWE operates backstage before a live event. If anything, it’s an excuse to talk about some cool material. However, in reality, everything we’ll highlight is the reason you see a quality WWE product air every week, despite popular opinion.
The WWE production crew works meticulously backstage to script each program. A few years ago, an employee who worked a rehearsal of SmackDown reported how wrestlers read off scripted lines. Some, like Cody Rhodes, sounded natural on the mic. Others, like Daniel Bryan, did not. The worker also reported how Triple H played a significant role during many of the segments, working hands on with wrestlers before, during and after the match.
While many of us believe the Creative Team just throws together a bunch of generic storylines, much more takes place.
7. Andre the Giant Gets an Enormous Amount of Anesthesia
Andre the Giant was a marvel to look at. A 7′ 4” tall beast of a man who could hold a grown man’s head in the palm of his hand and, according to legend, drink nearly 160 beers in one sitting.
By the mid 1980s, The Giant was nearing the end of his wrestling career, having worked in the ring for roughly 25 years at that point, but McMahon wanted him back for one more run to help put over Hulk Hogan. Andre refused, saying his back hurt, but a determined McMahon said he’d pay for The Giant’s surgery and let him rehab at his home.
Reports indicate The Giant’s anesthesiologist had no idea how much medicine to give him due to his massive size, so they based it on how much beer he drank in a sitting. While not technically sound, The Giant eventually made it back into the ring and did, indeed, put over Hogan like McMahon had hoped.
6. Bret Hart Seeks Out Shawn Michaels
While there have been numerous rivalries in the WWE since it first opened its doors in the early 1950s, none might be as explosive as the one that existed between Hart and Michaels.
Prior to the November 1997 Survivor Series, where Michaels would help screw Hart (non-kayfabe) out of the WWE Championship, their enmity towards each other boiled over backstage on a June 9th edition of Raw.
Up until the program, their animosity had been growing for weeks, ever since Michaels made a comment about Hart potentially having an extramarital affair with WWE Diva Sunny. In his autobiography “Hit Man,” Hart said he intentionally sought out Michaels backstage to “straighten him out once and for all.” While the two never came to blows, you can imagine what would have happened if it did.
5. Randy Savage’s Name Fits Him Well
One of the biggest wrestling stars of the 1980s and 1990s was “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Onscreen Savage was a wacky, colorful superstar, but backstage he was much darker and more ruthless.
Behind the scenes, Savage was reported to have a tumulus relationship with WWE Diva Miss Elizabeth. Just a few examples of his male chauvinism include ordering her to look down at the ground while other men, such as Hulk Hogan, walked by. Other, far more disturbing stories, indicate Savage may have even locked Elizabeth in their home for days at a time while he was out.
4. HBK Tried Superkicking The Rock’s Career
In the mid-1990s, The Rock was an up-and-coming talent trying to establish himself in a crowded WWE roster. But before he could make noticeable waves, he already had his first rivalry: “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels.
Reports indicate The Rock was initially bitter towards Michaels because he made rude comments about his mother when the former was younger. The grudge carried over into the WWE where Michaels then tried to use his political prowess to hold Rocky back.
It wasn’t until 2008, as The Rock was getting ready to induct his father and grandfather into the WWE Hall of Fame, that he and HBK finally reconciled.
3. Hulk Hogan Gets Held Up at Gun Point
In the mid-1990s, Stone Cold led the charge against the behemoth WCW. In the 1980s, it was Hogan leading the fight against the status quo.
For decades smaller wrestling promotions reigned supreme across the U.S., but Vince McMahon wanted to change that. In the mid-1980’s he took the WWE national, putting pressure on smaller promotions to adapt or perish.
One story that came about because of this fall out involves Hulk Hogan and independent promoter Harley Race. One evening Race, who had lost a lot of money because of the WWE’s expansion, rushed into the latter’s locker room and punched Hogan. When Hogan commented he was shocked Race didn’t have a gun on him, Race pulled one out. Luckily, no one was shot.
What may have been even more shocking was how Race went on to work for McMahon a couple of years after the incident to make back much of the money he’d lost.
2. The Montreal Screwjob
In the mid-1990s, WWE superstar Bret Hart was on his way out of the company to start the next leg of his career in WCW. That was about all Vince McMahon knew. What McMahon didn’t know was whether or not Hart, then WWE Champion, would take his championship with him.
The move, if it had gone down, would have been devastating to McMahon’s already floundering brand.
At Survivor Series 1997, Hart was ready to defend and retain his title against Shawn Michaels. The match would end in a disqualification. However, McMahon, Triple H, and Michaels had other plans unbeknownst to Hart and even referee Earl Hebner.
“It was a pretty close-knit group who knew about the screw job,” said Hart. “Vince, Triple H and Shawn ere the three who planned it…I was getting ready to go through the curtain when they circled Earl and basically told him this was how the match was going down.”
About twelve minutes into the match, Michaels locked Hart into his patented Sharpshooter submission as planned. However, instead of letting the match play out, McMahon shockingly ordered the time keeper to ring the bell. As a result, Michaels won the belt and Hart was furious. For years after the incident, Hart and McMahon were at odds.
1. Wrestlers Walk Out
While we already went into Steve Austin’s relationship with McMahon in a previous segment, let’s still take some time to dive a little more into when he actually walked out.
In 2002 Austin was still one of the WWE’s most popular stars, but McMahon and Creative weren’t treating him like a top-tier talent. They were booking him much lower down on the card while guys like The Rock and incoming WCW talent, like Hulk Hogan, were being placed into top spots.
Austin’s anger boiled over when he was booked into a throw-away match with Scott Hall at WrestleMania. Frustrated, Austin unexpectedly took the following RAW off. A few weeks later, he took off another night after McMahon booked him to job to rookie Brock Lesnar on an upcoming episode of RAW. Austin failed to show up, and his relationship with WWE quickly disintegrated.
Years later, The Rock would also have an issue with how he was being booked. At WrestleManie 29, The Great One lost the WWE Championship to John Cena. However, as the story goes, that wasn’t WWE’s original plan. The initial idea was to have The Rock defeat Cena and then for Dolph Ziggler to cash in his Money in the Bank and win the title.
Right before the match, however, Creative changed its mind and informed The Rock that Cena would win. This irked The Brahma Bull, but he agreed to proceed with plans. Reports also indicated it didn’t help matters that Cena came off as especially arrogant during that same evening.
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