For decades, wrestling has relied on twists or “swerves” if you will. They predate Vince McMahon by several years, long used in various territories to push things and people and are a key way of keeping things fresh. Sudden turns from face to heel or back again, unexpected title swaps, a wild storyline turn, when done right, a swerve can be something major. Think Hogan joining the Outsiders, Stephanie with HHH or go back further to Ole Anderson’s fantastic turn on Dusty Rhodes in 1980. It’s become more challenging with the rise of the Internet enlightening fans to rumors and other reports that give storylines away and so pulling off a big surprise twist is even more difficult. When it’s done correctly, a great swerve can invigorate the business nicely. However, for every great twist, there are terrible ones, ones that are not just stupid but downright insulting to the intelligence of fans.
It’s easy to blame a lot on Vince Russo and his obsession for “shocking swerves” but it predates him and a lot more prevalent. There are slews of times when something happens and rather than it be a shocking twist, fans are just left going “WTF?!” and not in a good way. Sometimes, it’s not totally the fault of the promoters as injuries or suspensions or such can alter an angle and need a new solution. But far too many times, it’s just plain, total, stupid stuff that makes no sense at all. Quite often, it’s to try and provide a solution to a long-range “mystery” that ended badly, showing that you should never start one of those things without some idea how it’s to end. It’s just wild to see how these turn out and while you can pick slews of examples, here are 20 of the biggest. Twenty times a “swerve” turned out horrible for almost everyone involved and just made things worse and not better.
20 The Black Scorpion
When Sting finally won the NWA World title in July of 1990, he seemed set for a good run. However, Ole Anderson’s terrible booking was a major blow with a lack of credible challengers. Thus, Ole came up with the Black Scorpion, a mysterious masked figure talking through a voicebox and dropping hints he was someone big from Sting’s past. WCW really wanted fans to think that it was the Ultimate Warrior and rumors are they seriously thought the current WWF Champion would jump ship. They touched on the Angel of Death, a former Sting partner but by that point, they had built the Scorpion up through ridiculous antics of doubles and performing magic tricks like turning a “fan” into a tiger among others. This included the insane “imposter Sting” bit at Halloween Havoc that just hurt Sid’s standing.
Finally, it was built to Starrcade as four identical Black Scorpions showed up before a giant UFO (seriously) dropped the “real” Scorpion to face Sting inside a cage. They fought it out with the Scorpion pulling out some familiar moves and random interference from the Horsemen. Finally, Sting got the pin and yanked off the mask to reveal the Scorpion to be Ric Flair, despite Flair having been pushed down the spotlight by WCW for the last year. Flair had known WCW was desperate and agreed to do this only if he got the belt back from Sting a few weeks later. Once more, a horrible attempt at a “swerve” that just made the entire storyline even more of a terrible botch.
19 Wrestlemania IX Ending
To this day, it’s a massive bone of contention with Bret Hart and his many supporters. For months, Bret had taken off as WWE champion, doing a great job defending the belt against all comers, connecting well with fans and elevating the product overseas, especially in Canada. At Wrestlemania IX, he was set against Yokozuna, the classic “David vs. Goliath” story and a victory by Bret would cement him even more for fans as a true champion. Instead, with Mr. Fuji throwing salt, Yoko got the pin and the title and fans were rocked to see a heel victorious in the main event of Wrestlemania.
But then came the bigger part as Hulk Hogan raced out to check on Bret, despite the two having no established history whatsoever. Fuji got on the mic to issue an open challenge, Bret waving Hogan in and in 30 seconds, Hogan had pinned Yokozuna to win his fifth WWE title. Fans may have cheered then but the growing Internet base were livid at Hogan stealing the spotlight from Bret. The fact is, Hogan wanted the belt and Vince was ready to give it to him over Bret with Hogan promising a match with Bret down the road. That, of course, never happened as Hogan dropped the belt to Yoko a few months later before leaving the WWE for years and Bret was relegated to mid-card stuff for nearly a year. An attempt at a good ending that only capped what most agree is the worst WrestleMania ever.
18 Goldberg Turns Heel
By the summer of 2000, WCW was dying and everyone knew it. Fans were leaving in droves, they could barely draw a few thousand to live shows without giving away tickets and the ratings were plummeting. So what was Vince Russo’s grand solution to it all? To take Goldberg, one of the only truly over guys the company had and make him a heel. The man was coming off a long injury and fans were waiting for him to start demolishing bad guys left and right as the monster he once was. Instead, he speared Nash to help Jeff Jarrett win the belt and the fans were irate. It was badly done, never connected as Goldberg just didn’t get the right opponents and even seemed unready to do this. The whole thing was dropped in just weeks and yet another example of Russo’s “swerve” obsession harming the product a lot more than helping.
17 Triple H defeats Sting
Bret Hart actually tried to defend this on a recent interview, saying that everyone seemed so sure Sting was going to win so it “made sense” for WWE not to go that way. Well, that’s one way to defend it but it doesn’t make it right. This was Sting, the icon, the one major star of his era to never work for WWE, now making his grand debut and at WrestleMania to boot. Going against HHH seemed off but it still was promised to be a top battle with Sting coming out on top. Instead, with interference from Shawn Michaels, DX, as well as Hall, Nash and Hogan, plus clashes with sledgehammer and baseball bat, HHH got the pinfall. As they shook hands, the announcers speculated that this might finally put the rivalry between WWE and WCW to rest…a rivalry that had died with WCW 13 years earlier. In short, all that build, Sting’s first big match in WWE at long last…and he came up short to Vince’s son-in-law all to settle WWE as the “best.” A terrible move that was a key letdown of the show.
16 Randy Orton’s Face Turn (2004)
It’s always dangerous to misjudge your crowds and that’s what WWE did in 2004. Randy Orton was really clicking as the heel contender for the World title and pushed more so fans responded. It seemed logical that he’d win the belt from Chris Benoit, becoming more arrogant and take over Evolution, pushing HHH out. However, WWE mistook the fan reactions to mean they wanted to cheer on Orton as a face when the guy was just so perfect as a heel.
But the way they did it was so incredibly botched as the night after Orton’s victory, Evolution just turned on him and beat him down. There was no reason for fans to cheer on Orton other than “HHH hates him” and that’s not compelling. He was never able to take off as a face and dropped the belt to HHH just weeks later. It set Orton’s career back as it would take him the better part of two years to regain himself as a main event star and champion. While he’s bounced back as a true WWE star, it still remains a big blow and a reason why some turns just aren’t meant to be.
15 The Anonymous RAW GM
Seriously, if you start a big “mystery,” you should have a way to pay it off. Time and again, however, wrestling writers and promoters have failed to heed this very simple and obvious advice. Such a case was the RAW General Manager who spoke via a computer to Michael Cole with his ultra-annoying “and I quote” line becoming a regular thing. We have moves of this GM doing everything from a fight with Edge (“why am I arguing with a computer?”) to overturning the Lawler/Cole WrestleMania match result. Fans hated it and wanted it to end with the big revelation of who the GM was.
So after weeks of Santino “investigating,” we finally got the revelation that the GM was…Hornswoggle. Yep, him screwing around on the computer was the big surprise and literally shrugging it off with “ah, well.” A total waste of a “mystery” that ill-served WWE with fans.
14 Monty Brown Turns Heel
It’s been said before but should be repeated: Monty Brown is the greatest dropping of the ball with talent in TNA history. The guy was quite over with crowds in 2004 and early 2005, a great physique, fun finisher and strong on the mic. He had challenged Jeff Jarrett for the NWA title, coming up short but still had loads of potential left. So when TNA had him turn heel on DDP to join with Jarrett in early 2005 with absolutely no build-up, it was a terrible, terrible move. There was no logic to it (why would you be upset about not enough title shots, then join forces with the champion?) and Brown never connected right as a heel. He was out of TNA a year later and stunning to see how one bad turn can ruin a career that looked so good and mar the entire company.
13 The Great American Botch
People may slam Lex Luger a lot today but it’s easy to forget how in the late 80s, the guy was massively over with fans. He had a great physique, could work well with others and really connected well. As 1988 went on, he was challenging Ric Flair for the NWA title and the fans were hot for him to get the belt. However, Flair had veto power and refused to do it, saying Luger wasn’t ready. Some may agree but the fact is, Luger was still the guy crowds wanted on top and a smart promoter should be able to see that’s better for business.
Instead, at the Great American Bash PPV, Flair and Luger went at it in a hard battle with Luger getting Flair into the Torture Rack and the ref calling for the bell. The fans went wild celebrating as wrestlers ran into the ring to congratulate the new champion. However, the celebration ended as it was announced that an “official of the Maryland Athletic Commission” had stopped the match due to Luger bleeding. He was meant to be a huge mess but Luger screwed up the blade job, producing a small nick that could barely be seen. Thus, it was instantly believed the Horsemen had bribed the official to stop the bout, which hardly sold Flair well as the champion. Crockett used this to promote more matches to promise blood but he and Flair being so short-sighted not to see the financial benefits of Luger as champion is a key reason Crockett was forced to sell to Turner just months later.
12 Bound For Chaos
When Hulk Hogan speaks, people listen, even when they shouldn’t. Such was the case in 2011 as TNA was building up to Bound for Glory with the big storyline of Bobby Roode challenging Kurt Angle for the TNA World Title. They had done a big “BFG Tournament” to give Roode the shot and various videos of him as a good family man and trusted figure, really pushing him hard. It was all set for him to beat Angle and be the new face of TNA. And then, days before the show, Hogan got on Twitter to talk about Roode not being ready and even dismissing him. Most believe this was Hogan playing his political games to ensure the title change wouldn’t overshadow his big face turn on the same show.
Angle, who was badly injured (a key reason they needed to get the belt off him) couldn’t even go 10 minutes before the surprise victory, which threw off everyone. The next taping of “Impact” had Angle defending the title against James Storm, just a couple of minutes before Storm got the pin and the belt. It was a good moment sold well so of course, TNA didn’t wait two weeks before having Roode beat Storm for the belt and turn heel in the process, completely undoing all those videos setting him up as the new face of the company. Yet another self-inflicted shot to the foot for TNA all because of Hogan’s big mouth.
11 Vince’s Son
When the Benoit tragedy cut the poorly-conceived “Vince is dead” storyline, WWE felt the strange need to replace it. So they came up with Vince suddenly accused of fathering another child and played with the mystery of this new McMahon for a while. That led to “comedy” of Vince’s former “conquests” dragged out and even hinting HHH was the son. It was supposed to be Kennedy to give him a new push but then he got suspended just as the revelation was to be made. In desperation, they decided to reveal the son was…Hornswoggle. Yep, the mini-wrestler who’d become a joke Cruiserweight champion (and drove that title into the ground) and even though it was funny seeing Vince in horror and HHH howling with laughter, still a terrible way to end it. But when you start a story so ill-advised, it's no surprise it ends in a mess.
10 The Quintessential Dusty Finish
Dusty Rhodes didn’t come up with the finish that would bear his name but he used it so damn often that it was forever linked to him. The epitome of this was Starrcade ’85 as Dusty challenged Ric Flair for the NWA World title, out for revenge after Flair and the Andersons broke his ankle. The match was good as both men worked well together. Near the end, Dusty went for a cover and Flair kicked out so Dusty landed right on top of referee Tommy Young. The Andersons ran in to attack Dusty who fought them off. He then rolled Flair into a small package as a second referee ran in to make the three count. The crowd erupted as wrestlers raced into the ring to help celebrate, footage shown backstage of Dusty having champagne poured on his head as he enjoyed the victory.
So that weekend, fans flipped to their NWA shows, ready to see Dusty as the champion. Instead, they were informed that Young had seen the Andersons interfere and disqualified Flair before the pin. Thus, Dusty won but Flair was still the champion. It was a really bad move, a blatant attempt to bait-and-switch those who’d bought the PPV and while it gave us the great “I have wined and dined with kings and queens” promo, it was still a major example of the booking style that has haunted Dusty’s legacy.
9 Eric Bischoff as General Manager
Throughout the Monday Night War, one thing was made clear: Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff hated each other’s guts. Neither made any secret of it, they loathed each other, each taking shots on the other constantly, both on television and in court. It was bitter and brutal and the key reason the War was so amazing, you knew the feelings of hate were real.
So when in 2002 Vince announced Bischoff to be the new General Manager of RAW, it was shocking. Seeing Bischoff come out and the two hug was jarring and not in the best way. This was truly the perfect storyline opportunity, what the Invasion should have been, Bischoff out for revenge on losing the War and taking it to Vince. Instead, they were presented as allies and all that potential tossed aside. On the “McMahon” DVD, Stephanie states that everyone figures it was just Vince getting the ultimate revenge of “having this asshole work for me” and not caring of the money-making opportunities. Sadly, yet another case where Vince McMahon’s ego ruins what could have been something truly great for fans.
8 Rikishi Did It For The Rock
As you can tell from this list, one of the worst moves a company can make is to set up a major long-range mystery without any plans for the payoff. Such a case was at the 1999 Survivor Series to give an excuse for Steve Austin getting neck surgery. While there was talk for a while, the mystery of who was driving the car fell by the wayside until Austin returned in 2000 and wanted to know who hit him. We got various suspects, some suspicion on The Rock until at last, the guilty party turned out to be…Rikishi.
That’s right, Rikishi. The guy known for his dancing moves, a brief Intercontinental championship run and had just debuted in WWE the night before that hit and run. The ridiculous explanation was Rikishi wanting to take out Austin and give his cousin, The Rock, a shot at the title after years of being “held down” by the white establishment. It was totally illogical, showed no understanding of the storyline and a huge mess to an otherwise great year for the company. Not to mention, it devastated Rikishi’s push for quite a while and just a stupid idea overall.
7 ECW and WCW Form "The Alliance"
The “Monday Night War” series really sums up the key reason the Invasion was never going to work: So many of the big names of WCW like Hogan, Hall, Nash, Goldberg and Sting were simply not coming over so you had the “invaders” be the B-team of WCW. When fans didn’t seem to respond to WCW on their own, WWE went to some bad moves. First, they teased the awesome idea of ECW suddenly breaking out to take on both sides, a truly cool move that had folks excited. Then, in less than an hour, they joined WCW with Stephanie McMahon as the new “owner” of ECW, relegating the brilliant Paul Heyman to second fiddle. Thus, the entire “Invasion” became yet another act of the never-ending McMahon family drama.
That was compounded by Steve Austin turning on WWE to join the Alliance. It made no sense given how it was long established Austin hated WCW for firing him long before and also took away from the actual WCW/ECW guys. It just made WCW look even weaker, never a fair shake so the Invasion turned into the slow burning mess it was. Still one of the most botched events in wrestling history as thanks to some “shocking turns,” the can’t-miss storyline turned into a truly epic fail.
6 David Arquette
The moment WCW passed the point of no return. When David Arquette first started showing up on WCW broadcasts, it was just another celebrity appearing to push the movie “Ready to Rumble.” No one expected more of that, even when Arquette teamed with DDP to face off against Bischoff and champion Jeff Jarrett in a tag team match where the winner got the belt. Instead, in what will rank as Vince Russo’s ultimate contribution to wrestling, Arquette pinned Bischoff and was named WCW World Champion. The belt that had been the cornerstone of so many classic matches and feuds was now in the hands of a third-rate actor with no wrestling experience whatsoever.
Worse, Arquette was made to actually defend the belt, although often with help from DDP and others. It all ended at Slamboree where, of course, Arquette turned on DDP to let Jarrett win the belt in a complicated triple decker cage match. To his credit, Arquette argued against the whole thing and gave his WCW payment to the families of Brian Pillman and Owen Hart. But it still remains a huge black eye on the company and when fans gave up on WCW in droves so this is a swerve that really did more harm than any good.
5 The New Razor and Diesel
It’s funny to look back at how so many sane, rational people in 1996 were convinced WCW was about to put WWE out of business. But there’s no denying that the arrival of the New World Order was rocking things big time as “Nitro” soared in the ratings while WWE seemed stuck despite all their great talent. In the midst of all this came a truly insane storyline as Jim Ross suddenly turned heel, blasting Vince on the mic for firing him over his cerebral palsy and somehow that was supposed to get fans to boo Ross.
He then claimed that Razor Ramon and Diesel were coming back, with fans given the wild idea that somehow Scott Hall and Kevin Nash had already gotten out of their WCW contracts for a big return. There was frantic talk on websites, push for the event, a big to-do made about a supposed appearance…
And then out came two guys with the same music and outfits but quite clearly not Hall and Nash. Fans booed and booed loudly, totally and truly hurt by this blatant lie as Vince McMahon appeared to be pushing that it was the characters that mattered, not the true guys. This kicked off a very ugly lawsuit that just made WWE look all the poorer. It’s really one of the most bizarre and petty moves of the Monday Night War but of course, Vince would get the last laugh despite how terrible this entire event was.
4 Screwing Over the Blondes
This was the first major case of a promotion trying to swerve the Internet fans…and given it was WCW, it should be no surprise it turned out so badly. Among their many brainfarts, in the spring of 1993, WCW decided to tape three months worth of syndicated shows in one weekend at the Disney-MGM Studios. Aside from exposing the business, it gave away months of storyline and title change plans. Among them was that by Fall Brawl, the tag team titles would be held by Arn Anderson and Paul Roma. When fans who attended the tapings exposed that on the Internet, folks weren’t happy as the titles were held by Steve Austin and Brian Pillman who, as the Hollywood Blondes, were the hottest team WCW had seen in years. Massively over as heels, the Blondes were just hitting their stride and the idea of them losing the belts went over badly.
With the upcoming Bash at the Beach PPV in July, fans thought this was going to be the title change. Instead, WCW decided to mess with them by having the Blondes surprisingly retain. The change was to happen at the August Clash of the Champions show. However, Pillman suffered a very real injury that would keep him out for weeks but WCW was bound by the tapings to make the change happen. So Steven Regal, who had no relationship whatsoever to the Blondes, was forced to take Pillman’s place to drop the belts to the Horsemen. To make it even worse, WCW decided to split the team up just as they were truly taking off. Merely another step in ineptitude for a company that was seemingly built on it.
3 They are Immortal
One of the absolute worst moments of TNA history, this was apparently meant to boost the company but only ended up sinking it further. For weeks, Abyss had been shown ranting about being under the control of a mysterious “They” and hinted that at Bound for Glory 2010, “They” would finally make their faces known. Meanwhile, Sting was ranting about Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff behind stuff as they would talk to Dixie Carter about signing papers to fire Abyss. That also involved stuff with Jeff Jarrett and others, Hogan claiming to be recovering from back surgery as the main event for BFG was Jeff Hardy, Kurt Angle and Kevin Anderson for the vacant TNA World Title. Bischoff entered with a chair, only for Hogan to come in, the two fighting…then Jeff taking Hogan’s crutch to hit Angle and Anderson and win the title. He then celebrated with Hogan, Bischoff, Abyss and Jarrett to reveal this group was “They.”
This was done at the Ocean Center arena, the same place Hogan had made his heel turn in 1996 and it seems he and Bischoff honestly believed this was going to be as huge. The next “Impact” had a 45-MINUTE opening promo where Hogan and Bischoff crowed about tricking Dixie into signing control of TNA to them, and labeled their faction Immortal. It was yet another case of TNA trying to revive the New World Order for a modern time but just made no sense and went nowhere other than drive folks to turn the channel from TNA once again.
2 The Greater Power
Here’s where it became clear Vince Russo was doing more harm than good to WWE. The Undertaker had taken on a truly bizarre persona with real supernatural powers, gathering forces like the Acolytes and others to face Vince McMahon. That included kidnapping Stephanie and trying to sacrifice her with Vince actually turning to Stone Cold Steve Austin for help. Soon, Undertaker allied with Shane McMahon’s forces for the Corporate Ministry and it was soon clear that Undertaker was answering to someone he called “the Greater Power.” More wild stuff included kidnapping Stephanie again and further battles as Austin and Shane would go at it. Finally, the hooded figure of the Greater Power revealed himself to Austin who was angered at his face.
The next week on RAW, the Power came out in a hood as Vince was shown on the titantron wanting to fight. The Power then pulled off his Hood to reveal….Vince McMahon. Yep, all those weeks of the intrigue of Vince now a face and working with Austin, some fun stuff, all thrown out for a lame reveal. It’s been rumored they wanted Jake Roberts in the role but couldn’t make a deal with him so went for this bad finish. Even WWE themselves seemed to realize how bad it was and to alleviate things, put in the twist of Stephanie and Linda so pissed at Vince’s actions that they signed over their half of stock to make Austin CEO of the company and drive Vince even crazier. Okay turn but still a bad move overall to mess up a wild storyline.
1 The Fingerpoke of Doom
Were you expecting anything else? The moment that signaled the true beginning of the end for WCW, a total twist not just on the fans but even those working in the back and a brutal turn for a year that had such promise. Days after having his unbeaten streak broken and losing the WCW World Title to Kevin Nash, Goldberg was set to regain the belt in front of a sold-out crowd at the Georgia Dome. But then he was arrested for stalking Ms. Elizabeth with Hulk Hogan arriving and somehow getting the title shot against Nash instead. We had Goldberg finally cleared and trying to get back to the arena in time…with the unintentional comedy of how the police station was shown to be right across the arena so Goldberg was held up somehow.
Hogan and Nash then got into the ring, circled each other, the crowd hot and ready…and then Hogan just poked Nash in the chest, he went down and Hogan covered him for the pin and the title. They thus jumped up to hug each other and laugh as the fans realized they’d been had. Goldberg raced in only to get a massive beat-down by the newly reformed New World Order, including a now-heel Lex Luger. They spray painted “nWo” on the title belt as the show ended. In short, rather than start the new year off right, WCW was just rehashing what they did in 1996 and thinking it would have the same success. A terrible move in so many ways that sent WCW on the spiral it would never recover from.