Kayfabe is the heart and soul of professional wrestling. It's what separates fantasy from reality, but it's not so easy to maintain one hundred percent of the time. There have been many, many instances where on-screen characters have broken sports entertainment's sacred rule; some smaller than others, some much larger in comparison. This list will feature some of our favorite moments, some of the saddest moments, and some of the more important moments in wrestling history.
It's important to note that Vince Russo is famous for his contributions as head creative writer for WWE and WCW during the heart of the Monday Night Wars, often times trying to blur the line between reality and kayfabe. It was an extremely popular tactic and made for very interesting television at times, but everyone in the wrestling community felt that he played that card a little too often, not unlike M. Night Shyamalan's affinity for writing plot twists just for the sake of shock value. This practice became known as "Crash TV," where weekly chaos was heavily preferred over elongated storylines, so more than a few of these will involve the work of Vince Russo in one way or another. Over time fans grew tiresome of this mechanic and WCW was eventually bought out by rival WWE.
We know there are some obvious moments that have been omitted, like practically all of Scott Steiner's or Sid Vicious' promos, but we figure that this list is fairly well-rounded and covers a lot of bases. We tried to include a variety of different methods of breaking kayfabe, ranging from shoot interviews, usage of profanity on live television, on-screen mentions of backstage politics, comedy so good that it made both heels and faces laugh, all the way to one of the most unfortunately real situations to ever happen on television.
We hope you enjoy our top 15 moments of character breaks in sports entertainment!
16 The Shockmaster's Grand Entrance
Everything about this situation is hilarious. Sting promised that his mystery partner for Clash of the Champions was going to "shock the world," but nobody expected it to happen the way it went down. This was especially true for Ric Flair, who was hosting his segment, "Flair for the Gold," when he could be heard saying, "I told ya... oh, God... oh, no..." into the microphone after The Shockmaster comically fell through a wall and landed flat on his face. Booker T. can also be heard off-screen saying "who is this mother (bleep)?" and laughing. After The Shockmaster gathered himself and was able to retrieve his glittery Storm Trooper helmet, he kind of just stood there and rubbed his hands together while waiting for Ole Anderson to stop laughing and start doing the voice-over that was originally planned. The Shockmaster certainly delivered on his promise, albeit in a manner that caused several wrestlers to break into laughter.
15 Gene Okerlund Drops an F-Bomb
*Video is NSFW!
If ever there's a quintessential voice for announcing, it's the smooth tone of Mean Gene Okerlund. However, his voice couldn't save him from dropping the f-bomb during a live interview with Rick Rude when the SummerSlam sign behind them suddenly fell to the ground. "Gentlemen, as you know The Ultimate Warrior... (sign falls) F-it!" That's the entire length of the interview which had to be cut away from prematurely as a frustrated Mean Gene continued to complain into a muted microphone. What makes the situation even funnier is that Vince McMahon can be heard in the background, not in the above video, sarcastically saying "Nice glue..." immediately after his production set falls apart.
13 WCW's Failed Gimmick "Seven"
WCW ran a series of vignettes throughout most of 1999 that featured a mysterious man staring through the windows at various children and figured that it couldn't have possibly creeped anyone out. Well, it did. In a supposed "worked shoot," Dustin Runnels (of WWE Goldust fame) entered the ring for his debut as "Seven," a character that mixed Uncle Fester with Edward Scissorhands, but once the lights came on, he quickly dropped his character and blasted WCW for concocting such a terrible gimmick. He was shown in the ring on primetime television for three full minutes, but he never actually wrestled in WCW as his Seven gimmick.
12 Drunk Scott Hall
Scott Hall has had a long history of substance abuse problems and when he strolled into WCW with a guaranteed contract, it seemingly only made matters worse. One of those lower times was when he and Kevin Nash were inside the ring on Monday Night Nitro taunting The Giant into a fight, claiming he didn't have the "guts" to come out and face them. When Kevin said The Giant's name, Scott Hall - clearly inebriated - ran over to the mic and said "Giant, that's your cue." It's minor, sure, but even those subtle kayfabe breaks are forbidden in sports entertainment.
11 Lex Luger Forgets... Everything
The Total Package Lex Luger has had a roller coaster of a career, bouncing around between practically every promotion in America. He ended up working at an independent company called the CSWF, where he cut his most famous promo of all time. Luger walked into a shoddy backstage room where an interviewer (who reminds me of Svengoolie and the Godfather mixed together) asked what he was going to do at Superbrawl Saturday and Luger immediately tripped over his words. He rambled about not knowing the name of the show, not knowing if "Bill what's-his-name" could afford to pay him, that his shirt was too tight, and tried to storm out of the room before realizing that the door was locked. The interviewer understandably just stared in awe for a few seconds before inevitably breaking down in laughter.
10 Jim Ross Informs PPV Audience of Owen Hart's Passing
At a Pay Per View in Kansas City in 1999, Owen Hart was supposed to descend down from the rafters in Kansas City as The Blue Blazer when his safety harness malfunctioned and he fell 70 feet into the ring. During a preview of the matchup between Owen and The Godfather, announcer Jim Ross can be heard saying "... and we've got big problems out here," causing Jerry Lawler to run to the ring to check on Hart's condition. When Lawler returned on screen, you could see that he was visibly upset to the point of tears and Ross stressed several times throughout that "this is not part of the entertainment here tonight, this is real, this is as real as real can be here." Ross would later have the unfortunate responsibility to inform the PPV audience that Owen Hart had passed away from his injuries sustained in the fall.
9 Bobby Heenan Curses on Live TV
*Video is NSFW!
Bobby the Brain Heenan is highly regarded as being one of the most quick-witted and savvy managers/commentators of all time. However, he famously broke character one time in particular when Brian Pillman was in a match against Eddie Guerrero. At the time, the announcers' table was located directly next to the ring, so wrestlers on the outside of the ring could walk behind their table relatively easily. Pillman was behind Heenan and grabbed the back of his jacket, pulling it off, which caused a confused Heenan to shout "What the F are you doing?" Heenan later exclaimed that he legitimately had a "no touch" clause because of a recent neck surgery that Pillman didn't know about and also thought a fan had jumped the rail and was attacking him, not knowing that it was actually Pillman.
8 Sting Shoots on Jeff Hardy
Sting was set to face off against Jeff Hardy in the main event of TNA's Pay Per View,"Victory Road 2011, for their World Heavyweight Championship, but Sting was the only one who bothered to show up, figuratively speaking. It's debatable as to what kind of impairment Jeff Hardy was inflicted with, but he was impaired nonetheless. Sting, ever the consummate professional, took matters into his own hands and chose to "shoot" on Jeff, quickly ending the match with a reverse DDT and three-count pinfall that surprised Jeff and everyone else in the building that night. While walking back up the ramp toward the dressing room, Sting is heard replying to a fan by saying, "I agree! I agree..." about how the match didn't quite live up to expectations.
7 Madusa Throws Away the WWW Women's Championship on WCW TV
After a briefly successful run in WWE as Alundra Blayze, Debrah Miceli (WCW's Madusa) made wrestling history by taking her WWE Women's Championship belt and throwing it in the garbage on live WCW television. This gesture would prove to be groundbreaking for many reasons: it showed that there was direct competition between WWE and WCW, which had never been acknowledged before, and it proved to be a deciding factor for how the Montreal Screwjob was conceived. Vince McMahon hated the idea of having future wrestlers do what she did on television because it could have potentially crippled the company financially, so without Madusa breaking kayfabe and firing the first shot of the war, maybe we wouldn't still be talking about Survivor Series 1997 to this day...
6 The Rock Loses His Voice
No one can argue that The Rock is one of the most legendary talkers in the history of sports entertainment. One of the only ways you could potentially faze him is to make him not talk at all, which is exactly what his body chose to do during an episode of Monday Night Raw. The Rock was beginning a promo at the top of the ramp to a waiting Mankind in the ring when his voice went up a few octaves and cut out briefly before he took a swig of water. Both wrestlers smiled quite a bit while the crowd cheered, but it was business as usual from there on out.
5 Booker T Calls Hogan the N-Word
*Video is NSFW!
Booker T is passionate on the microphone, there's no doubt about that. During one of his more over-the-top promos while he was a member of the tag team Harlem Heat, he was shouting about a potential WCW World Heavyweight Championship match when he tripped up and said, "We want the gold, sucka! Hulk Hogan, we comin' for you..." and then dropped the n-word. He immediately realized what happened and put his head in his hands, smiling in the process and looking over to Sensational Sherri in disbelief. Later when he was asked about what had happened, Booker T explained that it's a very common word to throw around where he grew up and, when he was in that moment, it simply slipped out.
4 Bash at the Beach 2000
This one's a doozy and there are multiple rumors still floating around to this day about what really happened on that night back in July of 2000. Was Hogan in on it? Did Jarrett know it was a work? Was Russo telling the truth in his shoot promo about Hogan's ego and brutal backstage politics? What IS true is that Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff have two entirely different stories about what went down on that fateful night. After much research, I have gathered the following: everyone (Hogan, Jarrett, Bischoff, and Russo) agreed that the match between Jarrett and Hogan was going to end with Jarrett lying down and conceding the belt to Hogan to make it look like Jarrett was told to job to Hogan to appease his ego. Russo wanted to make it look like a shoot as much as possible, so when Hogan grabbed the mic and said, "This is the reason why the company is in the damn shape that it's in, because of bullshit like this," everyone was to assume that it was real. This is where it gets hairy though, because Bischoff and Hogan both claim that Russo cutting his shoot promo after Hogan "left the building with the belt" was never part of the deal. Russo laid everything out in the middle of the ring, calling Hogan a locker room politician and frequently referring to his creative control stipulation as a handcuff for what Russo really wanted to do with the script. Russo "fired" Hogan during that shoot, saying that fans will "never see that piece of sh** in WCW ever again," which ended up being true because Hogan never again wrestled for WCW. Hogan also went on to sue WCW for defamation of character, so whether or not everything in the end was all just an elaborate work, we'll just never know. Either way, Vince Russo broke a few unwritten rules about kayfabe by mentioning anything about backstage policies in the middle of the ring.
3 Triple H Consoles Crying Fan
Triple H is currently the company's top heel and heels are never supposed to care about the fans. Period. However, last year, Triple H had an encounter with an eight year old boy who was seated at ringside that broke down into tears after Triple H shouted at a nearby fan. Triple H also understands the business, so he knew right away that his character isn't above consoling a little kid, telling him that "everything is OK, we're just playing around!" After the show was over, security officials brought the little boy backstage to meet with Triple H for 15 minutes, where the boy and his father saw that in real life WWE villains aren't such bad people after all.
2 The Montreal Screwjob
Probably the single most controversial moment in WWE history, The Montreal Screwjob is by far the biggest example of a wrestler losing it for real on camera in disgust over the finish of a match. Bret Hart was leaving the WWE for WCW but there was a small problem: he was still WWE Champion. Not wanting to drop the belt in his home country of Canada, Bret urged the creative team to let him remain the champion in Montreal at Survivor Series in 1997, preferably losing the belt the next night on Monday Night Raw. This wasn't exactly what Vince McMahon had in mind, so when the time came for a spot in the match to happen where Shawn Michaels put Bret into his own finisher (the Sharpshooter), referee Earl Hebner ordered for the bell to be rung. Bret clearly didn't submit and the shock on his face, that everyone could see, was real. In response, he destroyed everything around ringside, drew WCW signs with his hands to the crowd, spit directly in the face of Vince McMahon, and even knocked him out backstage. Shawn maintained for years that he knew nothing about the screwjob beforehand, but several interviews have revealed that Vince, Shawn, Triple H, Gerald Brisco, and Earl Hebner (albeit ten minutes prior to the match) were in on the scheme.
1 The Infamous Curtain Call
Also known as the Madison Square Garden Incident, members of The Kliq all decided to bid farewell to Scott Hall and Kevin Nash (who were leaving WWE for WCW) in the middle of the ring, despite the fact that at the time they were a mixture of heels and faces. It isn't uncommon for wrestlers to bounce from one company to another, but never before have any of them broken the mother of all kayfabe rules: never acknowledge that you're all friends outside of the ring. What happens in the ring is supposed to happen in real life as well, so when Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Diesel (Kevin Nash), and Razor Ramon (Scott Hall) all hugged each other and saluted the crowd together, wrestling history was made in the process. Sure, it was only a house show in 1996, but it marked one of the first times that the crowd was intentionally made aware that wrestling isn't real. In an interesting twist of fate, the push that was in line for Triple H was set aside because of this incident, which paved the way for a new era of professional wrestling to be kick-started by a wrestler named Stone Cold Steve Austin.