Professional wrestling is full of big moments, but we remember so many that have come during a match. We remember the call from Jim Ross when The Undertaker threw Mick Foley off of Hell In A Cell. We remember when Hulk Hogan slammed Andre The Giant at WrestleMania III. We remember the spear from Edge to Jeff Hardy during the TLC match at WrestleMania X-Seven (the name of that event is not a great moment). I could go on and on and on about the greatest matches and greatest moments from those matches, but let’s not forget that some of the greatest moments in wrestling didn’t come during the course of a match. Maybe they happened after the bell rang. Maybe they happened before the bell rang. Maybe they were scripted. Maybe they weren’t. Maybe they were just so big that they brought grown men to tears.
Today’s focus is on those moments that transcend wrestling. They’re the moments that maybe came after a big match. They’re the moments when wrestling gets real for a minute. They’re the moments that sometimes give us a peek behind the curtain that we weren’t allowed to look behind for so long. They’re the moments that broke your heart. They’re some of the biggest non-wrestling moments in wrestling history.
20. Almost Any Hall of Fame Speech
The WWE Hall of Fame has become one of my favorite parts of WrestleMania weekend. It’s a chance to see our favorite wrestlers completely out of their element. The tights and boots (or shorts in John Cena’s case) are replaced by tuxedos and evening gowns, and we get to listen to some of the best stories from some of the greatest of all time. These nights are when they really drop their guard and get into what the life of a wrestler is really like.
Kayfabe is completely out the window here, unless you’re The Undertaker, and we’re let into that world for a few hours. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all of the speeches are gems. For the most part, however, these speeches let us reflect on so many of the great careers we’ve been following for so long.
19. DX Invades WCW
Anybody else miss the Monday Night wars? I’m not saying that everything from the Attitude Era in WWE was a winner, but this one certainly was. There was a time when the WWE wouldn’t mention its competition on the air, but after Eric Bischoff started referencing them, almost on a weekly basis, I think Vince had had enough. In 1998, in one of the boldest moves in history, DX took a tank across town from where RAW was being held to the arena where Monday Nitro was taking place at the same time and even went so far as to knock on the doors.
I don’t know exactly what would have happened had WCW answered, but I sure as hell would have watched that segment. It wasn’t the first shot fired in the war, but it was certainly one of the biggest.
18. Madusa Trashes The Women’s Title
This may have actually been one of the first shots, and was one of the most controversial segments in history. On the December 18, 1995 episode of Monday Nitro, then-WWF women’s champion Alundra Blayze showed up on WCW programming and had the women’s title with her. She walked up to the set, grabbed a trash can, and dropped it in, reclaiming her “Madusa” character in the process. To this day, I still firmly maintain that had this not happened, the “Montreal Screwjob” might never have taken place. If Madusa doesn’t do that on Nitro, maybe Vince McMahon would never have had the fear that Bret Hart might do the same.
17. End of an Era
The Hell In A Cell match at WrestleMania XXVIII between The Undertaker and Triple H with Shawn Michaels as the guest referee was amazing, but it was the moments after the match that puts it on this list. These three guys were key pieces in the Attitude Era, and were essentially the only three guys that never left the WWE when WCW was throwing ridiculous money at everybody. That’s what made what happened after the match so special.
Following the match, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels helped Triple H out of the ring and they all walked up the ramp together and shared a respectful embrace at the top before heading to the back, which is something that rarely happens. The fact that it was these three didn’t just make it memorable, it made it iconic.
16. Chris Jericho Debuts
There’s a lot of debuts that have been decent, but given the circumstances and the timing, this is one of the best in history. Chris Jericho was being buried on WCW television, with the nWo getting most of the airtime, but he knew that he was destined for bigger things. While still employed, he had a meeting at Vince McMahon’s house about jumping ship, and the countdown clock that proceeded his debut actually started while he was still under contract to WCW. The internet age was still in its early stages, and we didn’t get spoiled as much as we do these days.
There were rumblings on what the countdown was leading to, but until the big “JERICHO” flashed across the titantron, we didn’t know for sure. On August 9, 1999 in Chicago, he came out to one of the biggest pops of the year and interrupted The Rock of all people for one of the biggest debuts of all time.
15. Triple H Returns
Debuts can be great depending on the person, but returns can be even better when it’s the right guy. When Triple H tore his quad in May of 2001 (seriously, what a badass for finishing that match), he was already one of the biggest stars in the company. Call it a case of “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, I guess, because when he made his return eight months later, he became the legend that we know today. It didn’t hurt that he made his return at Madison Square Garden, but he got one of the loudest pops ever when his music hit, and he looked about three times bigger than when he left. If you go back and watch the footage, you can tell that even he is soaking it all in.
14. The Curtain Call
Speaking of Madison Square Garden, the unthinkable happened in May of 1996 when kayfabe was thrown completely out the window by The Kliq. Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Triple H and Shawn Michaels were all on the card at MSG that night, and following the main event cage match between Michaels and Nash, all four real life friends ended up in the ring together sharing hugs and high fives and what not, breaking the barrier of the good guy versus bad guy image that Vince McMahon had tried so hard to protect.
Hall and Nash were off to WCW, and apparently this meant a lot to the guys. I don’t think Vince thought there would ever be any footage (this was a house show in 1996), but after it leaked, the illusion was over. It made for a very cool, but controversial moment. With HBK as champion, and Hall and Nash leaving the company, Triple H took the punishment, which nixed plans for him winning the King of the Ring that year. The alternative option led to another great moment.
13. Austin 3:16
When Triple H took the punishment for The Curtain Call incident, Steve Austin took his place as the 1996 King of the Ring winner, and the wrestling world is a better place for it. Austin had tried to get over for years with different gimmicks, but it was after his win over Jake “The Snake” Roberts that the “Stone Cold” character really took off.
Look, I could make an entire list of non-wrestling moments from Austin (beer truck, cement truck, etc.), but the “talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16…Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” will forever be looked at as the start of one of the most legendary runs in wrestling history.
12. Edge’s Retirement Speech
It’s never fun when a wrestler has to retire in his prime, but the speeches can make for some pretty epic moments and this one was one of the best. At WrestleMania XXVII, Edge successfully defended the World Heavyweight Championship against Alberto Del Rio, and nobody could have known that would be his last match. On April 11, 2011, Edge appeared on Monday Night Raw and gave one of the most heartbreaking speeches in history.
Injuries that had built up over the years would force him to retire, but the emotion that he showed and the response he received from the crowd made this a truly special moment for a man who held 31 championships during his tenure with the company. He relinquished the title later that week on Smackdown, officially retiring as the champion. If you gotta go out, it’s good to go out on top.
11. The Rock Challenges Hulk Hogan
The match these two had at WrestleMania X8 wasn’t the greatest technical affair of all-time, but it didn’t need to be. The crowd was insane in Toronto, and the buildup for this encounter was downright awesome. During the Monday night wars, nobody could have ever predicted that two of the biggest draws in history, Hulk Hogan and The Rock, would be in the same ring at the same time, but when it happened, it was electric. “You talk about headlining WrestleMania after WrestleMania after WrestleMania. Well how about headlining one more WrestleMania…with The Rock!” When he said that and they stood face to face on RAW, I’ve got no problem admitting that I got goosebumps and still do each time I go back and watch it.
10. Warrior Makes His Final Speech
The days that followed this moment weren’t so great, but when Warrior came out on RAW on April 7, 2014 to address the crowd, it was truly a great moment. For years, the issues between Warrior and WWE were well known, but after a great Hall of Fame speech during WrestleMania weekend, seeing Warrior back in a WWE ring after all those years was definitely a sight to see.
In what can almost be looked at as delivering his own eulogy, Warrior talked about his legacy, and the legacy of others to come. Sadly, he would pass away the very next day, but in a weird way, that makes this moment all the more special, as Warrior got to say one last goodbye in his own way.
T8. Eddie Guerrero Tribute
I don’t think there are too many that would argue that Eddie Guerrero was one of the greatest in-ring performers in wrestling history, and his passing on November 13, 2005 sent shock waves through the wrestling world. The following night on RAW, as well as later in the week on Smackdown, tribute shows were held for Guerrero, including an amazing match featuring his nephew, Chavo. However, it’s the tribute videos themselves and the ten-bell salute that stands out in these types of situations, and Eddie’s was amazing. It’s never great when a wrestler passes away, but it’s great when they’re remembered properly, and Eddie was one of the greats, as was the next wrestler who had a similar tribute paid to him.
T8. Raw Is Owen
If I made a list of the biggest accidents in wrestling history, I don’t think there’s any question that the death of Own Hart would be on the top of that list. Much like the Eddie Guerrero tribute, Owen Hart received the same treatment in 1999 on an episode of RAW, fittingly named Raw Is Owen. The ten-bell salute was done, as was a tribute video, but it was the open interviews where the other wrestlers talked about Owen that made this night great. Seeing one of the toughest guys in the world, Mark Henry, cry and read a poem he had written about his friend was unbelievable. There were no angles or storylines, but instead matches dedicated to Owen, and the show ended with Stone Cold toasting the Titantron, which had Owen’s picture on it the entire night. Again, the reason for this night wasn’t great at all, but the delivery of the tribute was perfect.
7. Ric Flair Returns To Nitro
Ric Flair is an emotional guy, but the night he returned on WCW’s Monday Nitro in September of 1998 was one of the most emotionally charged nights in his career. After being off of television for months due to a lawsuit issue with the company, Flair, dressed in a tuxedo, came to the ring and delivered one of the most memorable promos in history. There were real tears as he addressed his time away, and things got real when he got into his real-life issues with Eric Bischoff. “Fire me! I’m already fired!” was a must-see moment and the entire segment will go down as one of the top Flair moments, and that’s a pretty long list in itself.
6. CM Punk Pipebomb
You wanna talk about things getting real? Look no further than the CM Punk pipebomb from the June 27, 2011 episode of RAW. Was it a “worked shoot”? Okay, yeah, but you can’t sit there and tell me that every single thing he said was scripted ahead of time. He talked about things you’re not supposed to talk about on the air, and it made for damn good television. Actually, I really don’t even care if everything was scripted. It got people talking and it was something completely different than what we were used to at that time. Not since the Monday Night Wars had we heard any reference to another promotion, and Punk pulled the “Hi, Colt Cabana” Ring of Honor card out of his pocket, in addition to so many other things.
5. Macho Man & Elizabeth Reunite at WrestleMania VII
It’s hard to think about Randy Savage without thinking of “The First Lady of Wrestling”, the lovely Miss Elizabeth. As WrestleMania VII rolled around, the two hadn’t been paired together for quite some time, as Savage had been using Sensational Sherri as his valet. However, during the “retirement match” against The Ultimate Warrior, Liz was in the crowd and the cameras were all over her. After Savage lost the match, Sherri began to physically abuse the “Macho Man”, prompting Elizabeth to rush to the ring to save the day. The two reunited in a crazy emotional moment, and I don’t know why every single room I ever watch this in is a little dusty.
4. Hogan-Austin-Rock at WrestleMania XXX
WrestleMania XXX was a time to celebrate a lot of history in WWE, and the show opened with Hulk Hogan’s return to the show he helped build. That was a big moment in and of itself, but after he botched the name of the venue (hilarious), arguably the biggest name in wrestling history was joined in the ring by another guy with an argument for that moniker, none other than Stone Cold Steve Austin. After they paid their respects to one another, you didn’t think that the moment could get any bigger. Enter The Rock. Three of the biggest superstars in the history of the business at one of the biggest shows of all time was an iconic moment that we’ll probably never see again.
3. Bret Hart & Shawn Michaels Make Amends
This is easily one of the biggest rivalries in wrestling history, and everyone knows how The Montreal Screwjob went down. After that night at Survivor Series in 1997, Bret Hart was gone from WWE for more than 12 years before finally appearing on an episode of RAW on January 4, 2010. Hart called Michaels out to the ring, where the two would bury the hatchet and actually shake hands and embrace.
Both men have confirmed that the sincerity of the segment was very real, and both have seemingly moved on from the infamous incident, even appearing in interviews together over the past five years.
2. Ric Flair Retirement Ceremony
As if the WrestleMania XXIV match against Shawn Michaels wasn’t enough, the emotions surrounding Ric Flair’s retirement ceremony the next night on RAW came out in full force. After Flair gave a great speech to the fans, things really got rolling when Triple H came out to pay respects to his friend, and escalated even further when The Four Horsemen hit the ring, then Ricky Steamboat, then Greg Valentine and Harley Race, and eventually the ring was surrounded by legends past and present paying tribute to one of the greatest wrestlers to ever step foot in the ring. This was about as big as big moments get in the wrestling world.
1. SmackDown After 9/11
Following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the sports world just shut down. The NFL cancelled games, as did Major League Baseball, but never one to back down from anything, Vince McMahon decided to go ahead with Smackdown from Houston only two days later. With the roster standing on the stage, Vince gave a passionate speech about the strength of the nation, and was quick to point out that the event was the first public assembly of that size since the attacks took place. And let’s get real. That national anthem performance from Lillian Garcia remains one of the most emotional moments in wrestling history.
That’s only 20. There are countless other non-wrestling moments out there. What’s your favorite?
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