There have been rumblings for a while inside the industry and from fans and analysts of pro wrestling that “kayfabe is dead.”
The term kayfabe is a wrestling term which covered the unspoken rule that everything within the context of a pro wrestling event should be portrayed as real. For example, in the context of pro wrestling, two wrestlers who are in a rivalry really do hate each other. In terms of characters, The Undertaker really is an invincible dead person with mystical powers and not just a character portrayed by Mark Calaway and his brother Kane is truly his brother and not Glenn Jacobs.
In the 70s and 80s, kayfabe was kept very strictly between promotions and the wrestlers because the business depended on the notion that wrestling was a real sport, so the fights were real, the rivalries were real and the characters were real. With the advent of the internet age in the 90s and the WWE’s own coining of the term “Sports Entertainment” to describe their programming, the WWE has focused less on protecting the projected realism of the business to the outside world and merely keeps kayfabe only during performances.
However, there have been times when WWE occasionally breaks kayfabe within the context of their programming for a number of different reasons, whether it be to advance storylines, explain prolonged absences or trying to “own” any news that has been leaked out of the company. Here we will take a look at 15 of those instances where WWE threw Kayfabe out the window.
15. How Did Perry Saturn Get Moppy?
Perry Saturn is not a man to mess with. While with the WWE, Saturn was having a dark match with Mike Bell. Bell botched a snapmare takedown and Saturn felt that he was nearly injured. Saturn snapped, throwing Bell out of the ring violently onto his head. He then speared him directly onto the steel steps outside. He broke kayfabe by completely forgetting the match and demolishing a jobber who frustrated him.
As a punishment, he was paired with a mop, which hilariously actually became the most popular gimmick of his career. Go figure.
14. Jerry “The King” Lawler Has A Heart Attack
Vince McMahon has always stated that “anything can happen” when watching RAW live on Monday Nights. This mode of thinking has been implanted into the minds of the viewer, so usually it’s hard to decipher whether a shocking event that plays out on live TV is planned or not. On a 2012 edition of RAW, things got very real for Jerry “The King” Lawler during the broadcast when he suffered a heart attack while sitting at the announce table.
During the show, the 62 year old Lawler was involved in a tag team match, teaming with Randy Orton to face Dolph Ziggler and CM Punk. Later in the show, while calling the action during a tag match between the Prime Time Players and Kane and Daniel Bryan, Lawler would collapse and RAW would immediately go to a break.
When RAW returned Cole informed the audience that Lawler suffered a legitimate heart attack and broke kayfabe by explaining that this wasn’t a storyline. Thankfully Lawler recovered, but it definitely sent a huge scare through the WWE Universe.
13. Mean Gene Okerlund Drops An F-bomb
Mean Gene Okerlund was a staple of the golden era of the WWE and was responsibility for conducting some of the greatest interviews in WWE’s history However, on a rare night in 1989, Okerland lost his composure and dropped the dreaded F-Bomb on a Live Pay Per View.
While preparing to interview the Intercontinental Champion, “Ravishing” Rick Rude and his manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, at SummerSlam 1989, the SummerSlam Logo that was hanging on the wall that they stood in front of fell to the ground. Rather than shake off this live mishap and continue on with the interview, Mean Gene exclaimed the words “Oh, F— it” and then proceeded to insult whoever put the logo up.
It may have been a minor blip in the great long career of Mean Gene, but this foul-mouth tirade was definitely one he’d much rather forget.
12. Daniel Puder and Kurt Angle “Tough Enough” Scuffle
In 2004, WWE was holding another Tough Enough competition, but rather than having the contestants compete away from the WWE at a training facility, they toured with the WWE and took part in challenges on SmackDown. Most of the challenges were humbling to the hopefuls and more often than not, hazing and bullying rituals. But one night, things did not go according to plan.
Kurt Angle was tasked one week to haze the contestants and see if anyone could take Angle down. After breezing through the first competitor, Kurt Angle demanded another one of the contestants step up. What Angle didn’t expect was that Daniel Puder, a fighter with MMA experience, would give Angle a run for his money. Angle and Puder would wrestle for position before Angle took Puder down. However, Puder would lock Angle in a kimura lock and put the Olympian in legitimate danger of getting his arm broken. The referee would count a pin and separate the two and Angle would get into Puder’s face and curse him out for his boldness.
11. Vince McMahon’s Farewell To Macho Man
When a superstar or personality cuts ties with the WWE, there’s usually little the WWE does to acknowledge the severed relationship other than a quick blurb on their website wishing the talent “The best in their future endeavors.”
However, on a special episode of Monday Night RAW in 1994, Vince McMahon made a necessary exception when he acknowledged the departure of his fellow partner in the commentating booth at the time, “Macho Man” Randy Savage. He had a falling out with the company and didn’t agree to a contract extension, choosing instead to continue his wrestling career in the WCW. Vince would take a moment out of the broadcast to the viewing audience that the “Macho Man” was no longer with the company, thanking Savage for all his positive contributions.
It was a heartfelt and genuine farewell to Savage at a time when it was unheard of.
10. The Undertaker’s Emotional Salute To Flair
If you’ve been watching the WWE for any decent amount of time, you would know that The Undertaker takes his gimmick very seriously. The Undertaker is usually in character and very reclusive out in public, so he doesn’t show up to events like the Hall of Fame or other occasions where it wouldn’t fit his character, and The Undertaker sure as hell doesn’t cry. That is unless it’s for “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair.
This moment occurred the night after WrestleMania XXIV, where Ric Flair was celebrating his retirement after losing to Shawn Michaels in a retirement match the night before. It was an emotional night as Superstars past and present would come on stage to pay tribute to Flair and his illustrious career.
In what was seen as an exclusive seen on WWE’s website after the show, The Undertaker made his way to the ring. He shook Flair’s hand and then dropped to a knee to do his signature salute pose out of respect. The blubbering from Flair may have set off Taker, as he was shown welled up with tears as well.
This showed a human side to Taker we rarely ever see and haven’t really seen since.
9. Shawn Michaels Gets Hit With A Battery
Batteries hurt. And if you’re in the middle of the ring trying to speak publicly in front of a rabid crowd of people and you get nailed with one in the head, it’s likely to tick you off. That’s what happened to “The Heartbreak” Kid Shawn Michaels and it made for quite an awkward moment on television.
At a DX Public Workout setup to promote WrestleMania XIV, Shawn Michaels appeared with Mike Tyson and Triple H to address the crowd when a crazy fan hit him in the face with a battery. Shawn Michaels was infuriated from the disrespectful move and stormed out of the ring and went backstage, leaving Triple H to ad-lib his way to cut a promo.
Vince McMahon and HBK would argue backstage and Shawn Michaels would return to the ring, but this was certainly a moment where things went clearly off-script.
8. JBL And Blue Meanie Fist Fight
At ECW’s first One Night Stand Pay Per View under the WWE umbrella, a spectacular brawl took place at the end of the show between the ECW originals and the WWE Superstars. However things got a little real for a couple of the men in the melee: John Bradshaw Layfield and The Blue Meanie.
On tape, it’s seen that JBL is laying into Blue Meanie with very stiff punches to the face that would bloody him. It was highly unprofessional and WWE sought to reprimand JBL by bringing up this real incident on TV and having Blue Meanie and JBL fight one on one in a match on SmackDown which saw Blue Meanie’s friend Stevie Richards land one of the stiffest chairshots of all time to JBL as a receipt for his conduct at One Night Stand.
7. Paul Heyman’s One Night Stand Promo
At that same One Night Stand PPV event, Paul Heyman would hold nothing back when given the mic at his old ECW stomping grounds in the Hammerstein Ballroom. What started off as a round of thank yous to the fans for making ECW such a die-hard movement, Heyman would turn into a venting of frustrations toward his former employers, Eric Bischoff and Vince McMahon.
Heyman would then go in on John Bradshaw Layfield, giving him a shoot low-blow by stating that his long title reign on SmackDown only occurred because Triple H doesn’t “like to work Tuesdays” and then would also berate Edge over real life drama involving him and Matt Hardy, who was not employed by WWE at the time.
It was a promo that gave a lot of casual viewers an inside look at a lot of backstage drama that had built up over the years involving Paul.
6. The Authority Actually Have Hearts
The husband and wife duo of Stephanie McMahon and Triple H are better known as The Authority and are unanimously hated by the WWE Universe for being condescending to their audience, throwing their weight around and abusing their powers which they repeatedly claim is “best for business.”
However, on a 2015 episode of RAW, Triple H and Stephanie reminded people that they are decent human beings and they just play terrible people on TV. The Cerebral Assassin and his wife sat ringside for the main event of RAW and were heeling it up to the crowd around them off-camera. Apparently, in the midst of the crowd interaction, HHH made a young boy cry from his bad guy remarks. Immediately, HHH and his wife, who are both proud parents, hugged the little guy and tried to make him feel better.
In the context of the show, it would’ve been off, but luckily the WWE cameras kept the focus off of them being decent human beings and kept it on the match. After the show, The Authority took the child backstage to meet his favorites and gave him a bunch of WWE merchandise and goodies.
5. Curtain Call At MSG
Scott Hall and Kevin Nash made themselves household names in the WWE under the characters of Razor Ramon and Big Daddy Cool Diesel. However as their contracts were set to expire, they wanted more money and WCW was willing to offer them a lot more than what WWE could give them and an easier schedule, so they decided to jump ship.
Before Hall and Nash could take off to the competition, they had one last contractual obligation to commit to, which was a house show at Madison Square Garden. It was at this event that they would choose to break kayfabe in front of the unsuspecting crowd.
What many did not know were that HBK, Scott Hall, Nash and Triple H were all real life friends, while on TV they were portrayed as rivals. After the main event of Diesel and Shawn Michaels, the Madison Square Garden crowd reacted in disbelief as Triple H and Razor Ramon would come out, so they could embrace in the ring as a send off to their friends.
Vince allegedly agreed to The Kliq doing a respectful farewell, but he didn’t expect there to be video footage captured of the incident.
4. Lita/Matt And Edge Love Triangle
As part of Team Extreme, Matt Hardy and Lita’s real-life relationship was brought on-screen. The fans adored the two as a couple so it’s understandable that they were shocked after news and rumors spilled on the internet that Lita was accused of cheating on Hardy. Lita was discovered to be in an on-the-road affair with Edge while Matt was at home nursing a knee injury that kept him off the road and apart from his girlfriend. Things took an even more muddy turn when WWE fired Matt Hardy for no apparent reason other than to suppress backstage drama that would ensue from the real-life love triangle.
WWE would ignore the news on television while those well-informed from the internet of the betrayal began chanting “You screwed Matt” to the couple and harshly labeled Lita with unsavory name calling. WWE would finally acknowledge the real-life situation on their TV show and blur the lines before Matt Hardy appeared out of nowhere at a RAW arena to attack Edge.
This intense worked-shoot feud would play out on television in the summer of 2005 and was a case of WWE taking real life drama and using it to make money.
3. Vince Exploding Limo Incident
For a while, the WWE would use the lull period after WrestleMania season to try to keep things interesting over the summer with outlandish and dramatic storylines, usually involving the McMahon family members. In 2007, Vince decided his best idea to get the fans tuned in would be if he were to fake his death.
Vince McMahon’s character was shown leaving the arena through a crowd of WWE talent who all had a bone to pick with their boss and as he entered his limo, the entire vehicle burst into a fiery explosion. WWE legitimately tried to pass off that Vince McMahon was “presumed” dead and a murder mystery was then planned to be played out over the summer to figure out “Who done it?”
The angle was short-lived though and scrapped when news broke of Chris Benoit’s legitimate death. Vince appeared on television, breaking kayfabe to pay tribute to Benoit after his tragic passing.
2. Randy Orton Calls Kofi Kingston Stupid
Things were looking up for Kofi Kingston in 2009. The New Day star was in the middle of an exciting feud with “The Legend Killer” Randy Orton and it seemed that he would soon be become a main eventer. However, all that went down the drain after a match against the aforementioned Orton seemingly halted his fast rising career in its tracks.
During a match between the two on Raw, Orton looked like he broke character for a while after he started to berate Kingston – who had apparently messed up somewhere in the match. Though the audio isn’t all too clear, you can just about make out Orton constantly yelling “stupid!” in Kingston’s direction along with some other obscenities that are more difficult to make out.
After that little episode, Kingston’s push ended and he didn’t recover until joining The New Day.
1. The Montreal Screwjob
In what has been regarded as on of the most controversial moments in the history of the WWE, the Montreal Screwjob of 1997 is the premier example of the WWE deciding to break kayfabe for what they believed was for the good of the longevity of their company. Bret “The Hitman” Hart was a long-time loyal WWE employee but was offered a contract by WCW and decided to take them up on their offer. The problem was that he was WWE Champion at the time and with the pending Survivor Series PPV being one of his last obligated dates with the company, he refused to drop the title in front of his hometown crowd. Bret urged McMahon to let him retain the title at the PPV and perhaps drop the title the next night on RAW or have it vacated.
However, Vince McMahon had other plans. After promising Bret the match would end the way they discussed, Vince McMahon called for the bell to be rung when contender Shawn Michaels locked Bret Hart in the sharpshooter, awarding Michaels the win and the belt, even though Bret clearly didn’t submit.
What would follow would send ripples through the wrestling industry as Bret Hart would lose it and destroy the set at ringside and spit in Vince McMahon’s face. Not the best way to end your last day, eh?
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