There’s nothing that hardcore WWE fans love more than to be surprised by what happens next. Too often, WWE falls into a rut of predictable booking that makes calling their next shot as easy as predicting that John Cena isn’t going to lose to a single finisher. While part of the issue has to do with the company’s tendency to rely on the same booking methods, the predictability of WWE is even more apparent to those who constantly watch the product and have become “smart” to the ways that WWE operates. Many of these fans feel immune to the kayfabe nature of modern professional wrestling.
Every once in a great while, however, WWE does something that doesn’t just shock the average viewer but their hardcore fans as well. Actually, shock isn’t even necessarily the right word to use in this instance. No, when you’re talking about these occurrences, the only word is “fooled.” Yes, there are rare times when WWE manages to play against the expectations of their most dedicated fans and simply fool them with a moment that catches everyone off-guard. They don’t come around often, but these are the top 15 times WWE fooled their smartest fans.
15 CM Punk Disguises Himself As Jeff Hardy
One of the oldest tricks in the big book of pro wrestling tricks is to make fans think they’re seeing one wrestler when they’re really watching another. Most of the time, this illusion is achieved through some kind of mask. You have a “masked wrestler” come out, do something shocking like beat a star, and then have them take the mask off to reveal that they’re someone else. It’s a cheap way to trick the audience, but this instance of the technique is special because of how long it worked.
14 Daniel Bryan’s 2010 Firing
Here’s one that’s low on this list simply because it's still not entirely clear what happened. In 2010, Daniel Bryan was fired from WWE. According to WWE, they released Bryan over a televised incident involving him choking out Justin Roberts with a tie. They claimed that the sponsors got upset so they were forced to release him. Two months later, fan support allegedly brought Bryan back.
13 Seth Rollins Is The One That Betrays The Shield
12 Mankind’s First Hell in a Cell Fall
It’s one of the most iconic moments in WWE history. Near the start of their much-anticipated grudge match within Hell in a Cell, The Undertaker and Mankind go to the top of the cell. At that point, The Undertaker throws Mankind off the cell and onto the tables below. It was by far the most devastating wrestling spot most fans had seen up until that point. Many were not surprised, then, to see the medical staff rush out and put Mankind on a stretcher.
11 The Early Days of the Matt Hardy/Edge/Lita Story
10 Big Show and Brock Lesnar Break the Ring
9 Jim Ross' 2005 On-Air Firing
8 Brock Lesnar Ends The Undertaker’s Streak
7 Lesnar Squashes Cena at SummerSlam 2014
6 Kevin Owens Betrays Sami Zayn
Kevin Owens is a rare piece of talent. People have been saying for years that he’ll never make it to the top of the business because he doesn’t have the traditional look, but Kevin Owens has used his untraditional qualities to his advantage. He looks like a schoolyard bully all grown-up, and he tends to act like one too. Still, fans that followed his indie career were thrilled to see him come to NXT and were ready to cheer for him. On his very first show for the company, however, Kevin Owens ended the night by betraying Sami Zayn.
5 John Cena’s 2008 Royal Rumble Return
When it comes to the Royal Rumble, fans have learned to expect any possibility. Oh sure, there’s usually only a select group of performers who could reasonably win the match itself, but when it comes to what happens during the Rumble, it’s impossible to rule out the appearance of any superstar. Still, nobody thought that Cena would return to the 2008 Royal Rumble given that he had just suffered a torn pectoral muscle that could have theoretically put him out of action for a year.
4 Seth Rollins Saves WrestleMania 31's Main Event
Although smart fans typically earn that title because they have a basic understanding of how the wrestling business works, the truth is that they’re really just immune to obvious professional wrestling booking tactics. If the creative team at WWE is really trying to do so, they can easily book the storylines in a way designed to fool that particular group of fans by playing with their expectations. That seems to be what happened when Roman Reigns took on Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31.
3 Neville's Epic Near Fall Against Seth Rollins
Sometimes, WWE has a tendency to overplay their hand when it comes to false finishes. Generally, fans know that they can expect a few two-and-a-half counts before a match actually ends. Every now and then, though, a false finish will still catch everyone off-guard. While there are quite a few examples of that happening, this one makes the list because of how beautifully it was executed. During a rare RAW match for the WWE Championship, it looked like Neville was going to pull off the upset of the century after he hit the Red Arrow against Seth Rollins.
2 CM Punk's "Unplanned" Pipe Bomb Promo
From the moment CM Punk signed with WWE, hardcore fans waited for the moment that the company would realize he was a special wrestler who could one day become the face of the company. As Punk’s career went on, those same fans kept waiting. Eventually, it became relatively well-known that Punk and WWE had some creative differences as it related to his potential. So, when Punk ended an episode of RAW by sitting down at the top of the ramp in a Stone Cold Steve Austin t-shirt and proceeded to cut a vicious promo about his time in WWE, many felt that he was actually going against the script.
1 Mark Henry’s Fake Retirement Speech
By the time 2013 rolled around, Mark Henry appeared to be at the end of his career. This was a couple of years after Henry’s run as the dominant “Hall of Pain” champion, and Henry really hadn’t been given anything interesting to do since his days as the ultimate big man heel. While it came as something of a surprise to many that WWE promoted Henry’s retirement early into the June 17th episode of RAW, nobody was too surprised to see Henry come out in his trademark salmon jacket and begin to cut a heartfelt promo about his time in WWE.
If it would have been Henry’s actual retirement speech, it would have been one of the all-time great retirement speeches. Instead, it turned out to be the absolute greatest swerve in modern WWE history. When Henry beat down John Cena at the end of his speech to set up a title match, he shocked absolutely everyone that was watching.
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