Professional wrestling’s larger than life characters and riveting in-ring drama have captivated audiences for generations. However, while the personal grudges between our grappling heroes have ensured that wrestling’s fanbase continued to willingly suspend their disbelief, the evolution of the sport has certainly changed the landscape in terms of storytelling.
The move to prime time television from the Saturday morning fare that brought wrestling to the national spotlight has certainly contributed to some degree of the culture shift. But it’s also the profile of the leading companies like the WWE as entertainment companies, as opposed to wrestling promotions that has also played a significant role. Add to that, the pressure of being a publicly traded company responsible to shareholders and what was considered the ‘low brow’ sport of grunt and groaners has been forced to grow up.
While professional wrestling continues to amass a strong following, much of what drew us in as fans even as recently as a generation ago and has left an indelible imprint on our memory, might not cut the mustard today. In an era of political correctness, advertiser sensitivity, and with the profile of prime time, many of the lasting memories of wrestling in the 1970s and 80s would simply not fly in today’s wrestling climate.
The following list shares 15 examples of angles or storylines that simply wouldn’t make it to the airwaves in today’s modern era of wrestling. Some of the reasons may surprise you, but others certainly will not.
15. The Gobbledy Gooker
There are many moments in professional wrestling which were cemented to our memory with the words of “Mean” Gene Okerlund providing the soundtrack. We certainly don’t envy Gene for his assignment to get everyone interested in the mystery of a giant egg that was going to crack precisely at the Survivor Series pay per view and reveal something that we should all be excited about. Rumors over the decades have speculated that the egg was initially intended for The Undertaker, who would make his debut that night, or perhaps to signal the arrival of Ric Flair.
However, when the moment arrived and we were introduced to Hector Guerrero in a Sesame Street-like turkey suit … when the reaction from the live audience should have been enough to ensure that someone from the creative department lost their job. While we don’t want to see this one re-lived, it would sure be great for a “now it can be told” documentary to find out how wrestling fans were ever subjected to this.
14. The “Invasion” Angle
Many fans of the Monday Night Wars era of professional wrestling were intrigued to see how the WWE’s takeover of WCW would play out on television and impact the careers of all involved. Instead, what we were subjected to was a short-lived “invasion” which spelled out the WWE’s total domination of the business in a matter of months. Whether at the WWE level, or played out among independent promotions that work collaboratively, the invasion storyline is one that has been overdone and watered down so much, that re-saddling this horse is not enough to rally the troops.
The level of exposure fans have to the business of wrestling via internet news sources certainly doesn’t help to dispel the legitimacy of any wrestler “uprising” against the corporate juggernaut that is Vince McMahon.
13. The Kiss My A** Club
Many will point to Vince McMahon’s prime time “Kiss My Ass” club as an example of the company chairman’s twisted tastes and his own megalomaniacal personality as the catalyst for this short lived storyline. While we don’t think that it’s a matter of modesty that would prevent the 70 year old McMahon from baring his cheeks in public, it probably wouldn’t sit well with the WWE’s new corporate image and politically strategic relationships to remind non-wrestling fans about this one.
12. Jerry Lawler – Jake Roberts
Jake Roberts is a wrestler who has battled his demons throughout his life and career. When he returned to the WWE and allowed his own personal struggles to be used as a storyline against Jerry Lawler, this quickly ventured into territory that defined much of what the “Attitude Era” would become. Lawler taunted Roberts, be-rated enhancement talent with bottles of Jim Beam and edgy interviews that mocked the WWE mainstay in a manner that threw political correctness out the window. However, unless the WWE was courting sponsors from the liquor industry – this one went too far quickly.
11. The Midnight Rider
When Dusty Rhodes would draw the ire of referees and regional wrestling officials or find himself on the losing end of a “Loser Leave Town” stipulation, mysteriously within days of his departure a mystery man in a black mask would arrive to fill his vacancy. The Midnight Rider, with his frumpy physique and inescapable lisp was easily identified as the supposedly suspended Rhodes, and while it generated support from wrestling fans who wanted to believe that Dusty was pulling a fast one over on his antagonists, is one of those storylines that non-wrestling fans will point at to make their case about how unintelligent wrestling fans are to digest this load of malarkey.
Over time, this once compelling storyline which worked repeatedly in the territory days of the sport, became so hokey that when the WWE introduced “Mr. America”, it wasn’t even remotely amusing.
10. The Savage – Elizabeth Relationship
Randy Savage adored his wife Elizabeth, but he was also insanely jealous and there are numerous reports of the steps he would take to keep her shielded from the fellows with whom he would share the ring each night. However, the dynamic that played out on camera, especially when Savage was cast as the villain showing a physically domineering partner, intimidating and directing his lady to be perpetually submissive is a scene which would raise red flags today.
The public awareness around the still taboo topic of domestic violence would have seen this on-screen chemistry changed quickly to avoid public outcry. After all, consider that Wal-Mart once was forced to pull Al Snow action figures from its shelves, because the mannequin head accessory was considered to be too closely symbolic to violence against women.
9. The Evil Hebner
“How much money did you spend on the plastic surgery, DiBiase?” cried Hulk Hogan after his startling defeat at the hands of Andre the Giant to end his first WWE title reign. The delivery of the storyline of an impostor Dave Hebner was so well played, that we still can’t forget the awkward silence that took place when the identical referees stood in the middle of the ring sizing each other up. That magic moment, featuring twins Dave and Earl Hebner was a piece of wrestling lore that could never be replicated again.
8. Earthquake’s Debut
Even as soon as the WWE Magazine was able to recount the introduction of the Canadian Earthquake to the Federation, they were already changing history, transcribing a dialogue that never occurred. It seemed organic enough – Rick Rude routinely pulled fans from the crowd to deliver his Rude Awakening, Junk Yard Dog would dance with ringside children in the ring – so when Dino Bravo called out a fan to demonstrate his strength by doing pushups with a 400 pound fan on his back, we believed in it.
Introducing himself simply as “John”, we were drawn in and couldn’t believe our eyes when this apparent fan suddenly ambushed The Ultimate Warrior. Unfortunately for us in the present time, newcomers to the WWE, especially unknowns, don’t get fast tracked to the main roster. So, sadly, a lot of the magical moments that could occur with shocking surprise introductions like this, are a thing of the past.
7. The Helmsley-McMahon Vegas wedding
While the WWE may shrug it off as a piece of drama intended to spike ratings during the height of the Monday night wars, there is a lot about the drugging, kidnapping and facilitating a fast track marriage under false pretenses that creates a P.R. nightmare when dealing with shareholders that struggle to reconcile the difference between professional wrestling and any other sports portfolio in which they may hold interests. Sadly, while vignette-driven storytelling is not something that we are going to see fade into extinction any time soon, those segments which border on the illegal and unethical simply are not palatable in today’s climate.
6. The Death of Vince McMahon
Sheepishly, the history books reflect that it was due to the unfortunate timing of the Chris Benoit tragedy that the company had to immediately scrap the long term plans for the ‘Vince is dead’ storyline and identify that it was just a piece of fiction on an episodic television show. But seriously, where would this possibly have gone anyway? It wasn’t as though Vince was stepping away from the company to hide out on any of his multi-million dollar estates on the east coast. He was still reporting for work every day at Titan Towers and backstage at the helm for every television taping. How do you legitimately come back from the dead?
5. Roddy Piper – Mr. T
Except for the humiliation of a little person which has never seemed to go out of style in the WWE, the rivalry between Roddy Piper and Mr. T is one of the staples of wrestling’s meteoric rise in the 1980s. Piper legitimately hated Mr. T as he believed that the Hollywood star didn’t belong in the closed network of professional wrestling. Further, Piper’s old school mentality wouldn’t allow him to sacrifice his own hard work and credentials to lay down for a non-wrestler and damage his own credibility. Piper found a way around that didn’t compromise his own track record, and leading up to the match, we were treated to some of Piper’s best interviews.
The celebrity matches in the years since have all lacked the fire and intensity of this early showdown and, with the visiting star often picking up the victory in some manner, often leaves little for the wrestler, who needs to pick up and carry on in front of the fickle wrestling public, with little to redeem himself. This isn’t the only time that WWE Hall of Famer, Roddy Piper makes this list though.
4. Ken Patera’s Comeback
In 1987, Ken Patera’s return to wrestling after two years in prison made for some compelling television. Here was a rising star in the ring, a celebrated Olympian, whose life had been side-tracked by an unfortunate decision after the matches one night that was trying to put his life back together. The WWE produced “The Ken Patera” story on video, and made Patera’s absence a focal point of his return. Today, the company would be distancing itself as far as possible from any possible negative backlash of hiring a known ex-convict.
Look at the way the WWE has distanced itself from Hulk Hogan in the wake of the damning content leaked from his sex tape. Even though Hogan was vindicated in a court of law, his association with the WWE is still one that the company is navigating cautiously – and Hogan wasn’t convicted of an offense.
3. Katie Vick
You have to be scraping the bottom of the barrel when criminally negligent homicide and necrophilia are required in order to make a feud between two wrestlers interesting enough to draw at the box office. Fortunately for both Kane and Triple H, whose WWE careers rate among the most prolific of all time, they were able to ride out the short term lapse of creative judgment to retain their jobs. Others, like Muhammad Hassan weren’t so lucky in their circumstance. Disgracefully, the WWE has included that storyline in their encyclopedia, allocating space to Katie Vick, celebrating the storyline as an example of wrestlers using head games to gain a psychological advantage.
2. Roddy Piper – Goldust
As America celebrates the bravery of Caitlyn Jenner, Roddy Piper’s role as the father striving to set a wholesome example for his children would be slaughtered in the media for being a man and standing up to the ambiguously gay character Goldust. In fact, the Hollywood backlot brawl, which presents as a hate crime when taken out of context, would find so much vocal opposition from the media and the public that the backlash would rapidly spiral in a different direction that intended.
1. Rio De Janeiro Title Changes
Pro wrestling fans have been fed a repeated diet of propaganda that celebrates the rich legacy of wrestling championships and immortalizes the champions that hold them. Unfortunately, promoters can’t point to a legitimate beginning that demonstrates that these institutions of the sport were created by design. Buddy Rogers, identified as the first WWE World champion, never won the title. He was fictitiously awarded the bout from a match in Rio de Janeiro. It was a claim that was never challenged, even though the WWE’s territory at the time of the alleged crowning moment, was exclusive to the American northeast.
WWE again showed its disdain for its fan base when it did it again in 1979 to crown Pat Patterson as Intercontinental champion with a second fictitious championship tournament in Rio. With today’s information seekers able to rapidly fact check on the internet, fictitious title changes would be quickly discredited.
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