Wrestling has always been a sport that features so many elements of entertainment that it eventually merged into what we know today as sports entertainment. Because it is a worked sport, promoters have always tried to figure ways to push the envelope in order to shock audiences and have them spread word to their friends that they need to see this. Just like certain TV shows and stand–up comedians, it is all in the spirit of finding out where the line is.
For every instance of something phenomenal like Orlando PD being called to the set of Nitro because of the worked riot WCW filmed there are moments that just cause fans collectively to shake their heads in disgust or embarrassment. Here are the top 15 biggest shames in wrestling history, spread across ECW, WCW, WWE.
15. ECW: Fire Towel
ECW was a product of the nineties–brash, in your face, and violent. Naturally, looking back there are all kinds of things the company could have been ashamed of and this is the first on our list. In a match involving Raven, Tommy Dreamer, Cactus Jack, and Terry Funk, they did battle the only way they knew how, ultra-violence, generally reserved for horror movies. The ECW faithful, the Roman Coliseum attendees of old demanded more and more insanity. Cactus Jack and Terry Funk were happy to oblige them and thought it was a good idea to not just light a towel on fire but wrap it around a steel chair and precede to attempt to bash Terry’s brains in while lighting them on fire, a gimmick they had done previously in Japan. But on this night, the bit went horribly wrong and Terry was set on fire. A fan had attempted, on his own volition to pat the Funker out. He then thought it would be a good idea to sue the company and its litigious-minded owner, Paul Heyman. The frivolous lawsuit was tossed out and Heyman refers to it tongue–in–cheek as the night ECW set a fan on fire.
14. WCW: David Arquette
No, David Arquette winning the World Championship is not the shameful act at all. Despite what fans think of the angle, Arquette did his best to play his part, all the while promoting the movie Ready to Rumble and donating his pay to wrestling families like the Pillmans. He gets a bad rap for his part in the whole ordeal. The shameful act is that somehow putting the belt on not only a non-wrestler, but a guy no one would ever believe as a legitimate Superstar. The guy was tapped to win what was at that time, wrestling’s oldest World Championship. Two men who grew up watching manly men like Verne Gagne and Bruno Sammartino. Heck, on his own podcast, Vince Russo usually bemoans for wrestling to get back to basics and even set the rules to his upcoming Rocky Mountain Promotion in order to do just that. But over a decade ago though, the mistake of a promotion was made. When you blame and cite this moment as the reason for the demise of WCW, don’t put the onus on Arquette, he was against the ordeal and he donated his money to widows and children of Brian Pillman and Owen Hart. The shame and the shade should be cast onto the bookers themselves for being so shortsighted. Sure, the whole thing was booked to be a fluke accident, but when plenty of fans view this as the reason WCW folded, that’s too big a fluke for any promotion.
13. WWE: TIE – Vince vs. God / Makes Trish Bark
HBK found the Lord, rehabbed his back, and came back to the WWE. He might be the only person to have taken such a long sabbatical, returned, and seemed to have only gotten better. In the four years he was gone, Vince went from behind the scenes owner to full on screen character and evil boss. But he might have been at his worst both on-screen and off when he scripted these two entries. Against HBK at WrestleMania 22, Vince McMahon would lose the battle but continue to be a thorn in Shawn’s side in the weeks after, taunting HBK and his belief in God, which culminated in the Boss cutting promos on the Almighty and issuing the challenge for the Lord to show up at Backlash. The whole program just showcased Vince at his most ludicrous, and devil may car attitude towards booking whatever he feels will work as opposed caring who might get offended. But Vince at his most lascivious and lecherous was hard to watch at the time as evidence why Women’s wrestling was seldom featured. Back before Trish Stratus became a legit wrestler, she was just a blond bombshell. But Vince, in true disgusting villain fashion would utilize his power to assert his dominance over the Canadian cutie, most famously making her bark like a dog on live TV. Quite possibly, the single most degrading moment of a female on WWE TV.
12. ECW: The Sandman
The Sandman was one of the characters who was the embodiment of the anti-establishment, rebellious cult known as ECW. The guy would smoke cigarettes and drink beer just on his way to the ring! While that might have been fine for the time, as the world and the conscience of it has grown, a guy like The Sandman looks archaic, barbaric, and most importantly shameful looking back. While he had some of the most memorable angles in ECW history, they would never fly today. Heck, they barely flew then! First, the angle that demented Tommy Dreamer as a legit tough guy. Taking cues for the very real life drama of Michael Fay, The Sandman would walk to the ring brandishing a Singapore Cane and would defeat Dreamer in a match where he received numerous lashes across the back. Even worse than that would be during his feud with Raven. Raven would not only turn The Sandman’s entire family against him, but infamously crucified The Sandman at an ECW house show. The act actually stunned the normally raucous crowd into silence, and Kurt Angle who was in attendance that night threatened litigation if his name was even mentioned in the footage.
11. WCW: Stuntman Sting takes a Dive
For all of the fans who think that the Broken Matt Hardy/Final Deletion stuff is cutting edge and ahead of its time, look deeper back in time at Vampiro. Not to say that The Hardys are ripping off of The Dark Angel, but his work in WCW actually was very similar to what Team Extreme has been doing this year. Insane concept matches that took place on location – the only excruciatingly painful difference was having to hear commentary about cracking tombstones over a person’s head. Nevertheless, Vampiro’s work in WCW was a refreshing change of pace from the (insert item) on a pole matches and endless nWo infighting that had become the norm towards the end. Unfortunately though, the Icon Sting, who worked very hard to put Vampiro over didn’t buy all into their Human Torch match. Either he didn’t buy into it or the powers that be thought it would be a good idea to use a stuntman to protect Sting. But the gimmick was very visible when The Dark Angel set “Sting” on fire and hurtling off the scaffold.
10. WWE: Death in the Company
There are two schools of thought on this one. One school is that the Big Boss Man strapping Big Show’s daddy’s coffin to his car and driving off with Big Show in hot pursuit on foot is one of the funnier moments in SmackDown, let alone WWE history. True enough, Show diving onto and then bouncing off of his father’s casket was a sight, but to play off of a loved one’s death for humor is Family Guy or South Park territory. Theatre for the absurd, not for the WWE, which is presented as realistic. Of course there’s also Katie Vick, which has been discussed ad nauseam. But at least the Boss is willing to do what he asks of his wrestlers, and even though it was in poor taste, Vince McMahon blew himself up in storyline. Doing it just to see who actually cared about him, the Chairman stepped into his limousine and then, kaboom. News outlets, fire fighters, and police all came to the scene due to the realism of the angle. Wrestling has always liked to play off of real life events and certain wrestlers beliefs to further storylines, but these events and any others were wholly unnecessary. At least no one ever forced their rival to eat their own dead dog…oh, wait a minute…
9. ECW: Mass Transit
People will debate until the end of time what event or events single-handedly brought down WCW. But there is no debate that Eric Kulas’ idiotic teenage thinking and near death experience due to it almost brought down all of ECW. In late 1996, Ian Rotten was unable to make a spot show in Revere, Massachusetts. Somehow, Kulas and his dad wormed and weaseled their way onto the show by convincing Paul E. that Kulas was an Indy kid who was trained and knew what he was doing. Perhaps because he was with his dad was the reason that no one thought to ask the kid for ID or proof, but nevertheless the 17 year-old lied about his age and who he was trained by. He was dubbed Mass Transit and thrown into the ring as Rotten’s replacement, Devon Dudley’s partner against the Gangstas, New Jack and Mustafa. He had even asked New Jack to gig him during the match. Jack unfortunately gigged him way too hard and the guy bled like a stuck pig. After Kulas’ daddy vouched–and in this case, flat out lied–for his son he began to shout that he’s only 17. The family then tried to sue the company as cable providers threatened to shut down ECW’s first Pay-Per-View. Needless to say, all unsuccessful but still a father and son duo that go on to live in infamy and should be ashamed of themselves.
8. WCW: Halloween Havoc 1998
Over the years, there have been plenty of clunkers of Pay-Per-View events (re: the following entry for instance), but at least those events were all timed to finish on time and not screw with the entire fanbase that paid 50 bucks to catch the action. In 1998, WCW’s annual October PPV shaped up to have one of the biggest double main events in history. First up, the Ultimate Rematch between Hollywood Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior followed the hotly anticipated match between Goldberg, defending the WCW Championship against the white–hot Diamond Dallas Page. Clearly, in the eight years after their match of the year main event at Wrestlemania VI, Hulk and Warrior both lost a step and the icons stunk up the MGM Grand in Nevada. Surely, no matter how bad the rematch sucked, Page and Goldberg could have saved the event with an explosive match. But shortly after the bell rung, the event cut to black and went off the air. WCW had gone grossly over the time allotted to them, alienating even more of their already alienated fanbase. The powers–that–be decided to show the match in its entirety the next night on Nitro, further cheesing off the paying public by giving the match away on free TV.
7. WWE: Custody Ladder Match
For all of the flack that Vince Russo received for booking ridiculous items on pole matches, none of his angles turned into full – fledged telenovelas. Only in the WWE, would they take two of their greatest performers ever, and arguably the two best Latino wrestlers ever and put them and their families through a storyline so ridiculous, it could only be described as Telenovela–WWE–style. Playing off of the long storied history between Hall of Famer, Eddie Guerrero and the legendary luchador, Rey Mysterio, the pair engaged in what would be their last storyline together during the summer of 2005. After turning on his former friend, Guerrero revealed a terrible secret between their respective families – Rey’s son Dominic was secretly Eddie and Vickie’s but they gave him up to Rey’s family to care for while Eddie was getting clean. This led to the infamous “I’m your Papi” line. They then decided to do the responsible thing and wrestle for the rights of Dominic’s parentage and put on a Ladder match for custody at SummerSlam 2005.
6. ECW: Extreme Elimination Chamber
Speaking of bad Pay-Per-View events, WWE’s third ECW branded PPV and first ever since it officially became the third brand was the very poorly put together December to Dismember. With only two announced matches (The Hardy Boyz vs. MNM and the Extreme Elimination Chamber), the rest of the undercard suffered and it became apparent that WWE was not putting their best foot forward with ECW, considering the best match on the card featured four guys who weren’t even on their roster. The event and its booking had become more interesting than the piss–poor effort put forth by WWE this night. Heyman fought for his vision to be realized: ECW Champion Big Show would get tapped out early by up and coming CM Punk, who would eventually go on to win the Elimination Chamber and the ECW title. But Vince McMahon refused to let the mad scientist create a masterpiece reminiscent of the good ol’ days of ECW. Instead Vince pushed his weight around, booked then–dud Bobby Lashley to win and forced Heyman out of his own creation.
5. WCW: Fingerpoke of Doom
You would think that after consistently alienating their fan base throughout 1998, WCW would be very careful in how they attempted to win viewers back. They proved that thought wrong on the first Nitro of 1999. During the show, Hulk Hogan had returned for the umpteenth time, and claimed he turned over a new leaf. He challenged WCW Champion, Kevin Nash for the strap and all night the match was hyped to be a barnburner. Announcer Tony Schiavone, at the behest of Eric Bischoff, even resorted to one of his old dirty tricks and revealed that Mick Foley would be winning the WWE Championship this same night so there was no need to switch. But after Halloween Havoc ’98 and more recently the Starrcade Stun Gun incident just a few weeks prior, fans more or less immediately flocked to Raw. Thankfully for them they did, but the ones who stayed hoping to see a classic brawl between the two nWo leaders bore witness to the single most referenced moment when speaking about WCW’s downfall – the Fingerpoke of Doom; Hogan simply poked Nash who dramatically laid down in a heap for Hogan to pin him and reunite the entire New World Order.
4. WWE: Rosie vs. Trump
Like him or not, how crazy is it that a WWE Hall of Famer is the President–elect of the United States?! Never mind the digression, in 2007, the former star of The Apprentice and the former host of The View got into it over–what else?–Trump’s comments towards a woman. The person in question was Trump’s employee, drug–addled Miss USA Tara Conner. For whatever reason, on her show, Rosie criticized the decision and the two have been at each other’s throats ever since. Deciding to capitalize on the real life heat, Vince booked the match to take place on Raw. The Donald vs. Rosie. Due to their real friendship, it was rumored that at least Trump would show up on Raw. But instead we got Ace Steel playing the future President–elect, and former NWA Women’s Champion, Kiley McLean playing O’Donnell. Sadly the two capable workers were booked to have a horrifically bad match, which went on for far too long and had the crowd chanting TNA. Definitely the worst segment in WWE history – and yes that includes Katie Vick and Al Snow eating Pepper. It was a shameful attempt by Vince to try and capitalize on real life headlines, all for his ridiculously twisted sense of humour.
3. ECW: The Relaunch
Its one of the oldest sales techniques in the books, the bait and switch. Retailers offer a product but when you come to the store, for whatever reason the item in question is not there and retailers try to offer you a different product instead. Wrestling’s equivalent would have to be the WWE version of ECW. Under Paul Heyman’s guidance, ECW was a breeding ground for brash new talent to find themselves, technicians to put on mat classics, and older veterans to discover a new edge to themselves. It was one of the most revolutionary federations of all time and fans still chant E–C–W to this very day. When the company folded in 2001, WWE would purchase the assets and five years later would resurrect the brand during the second One Night Stand event. Soon after it started, it became apparent that ECW on SyFy was nothing like Hardcore TV, and any hopes that might one day be what the promotion once was went out the window when Paul Heyman quit or was fired depending on who you ask. It was one of the first times that Vince was noticeably out of touch with what fans wanted and tried to give fans his own version of a beloved cult promotion.
2. WCW: Buff Bagwell (and all of WCW) Fake Neck Re-Injury
In the spring of 1998, Buff Bagwell suffered a very real and very scary career–threatening injury when a botched bulldog from Rick Steiner left him with Spinal Shock. Even though Bagwell was part of the nWo at the time, the injury garnered plenty of love, support, and well wishes from the fans. You know where this entry is going, and yes there have been plenty of times where very real life injuries have been mined by bookers from all promotions for scripted drama. But this was different. Bagwell’s mother Judy would come out with the guy and fans from all over the world pledged their support and adulation FOR the man. But then the character, while seconding Scott Steiner into his match with Rick at Fall Brawl 1998 would milk the injury for all it was worth. The horror of what actually happened on Thunder months before played out again, on PPV. Medics rushed to the ring, Buff was stretchered out and fans were shocked into silence, of course until once in the back, Bagwell miraculously recovered and aided Scott in the assault on his brother.
1. WWE: Vince Interviews Melanie Pillman
Brian Pillman is arguably one of the most underrated Superstars and catalysts for the Attitude Era. Tragically, the iconoclast passed away on Sunday night, October 5, 1997. He left behind two children from a prior marriage, two step children, and one boy that he and his wife Melanie had together. Now Pillman’s widow, Melanie had to cope with her husband’s untimely passing while figuring out how to care for five children. In the Loose Cannon documentary, Melanie would defend her decision to have an interview with Vince the next night on Raw. But that doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do on Vince and the WWE’s part. Vince McMahon’s line of questioning seemed to be more in line with an owner trying to clear his company from any wrong doing while at the same time asking a young woman who just lost her husband how she was going to carry on, instead of doing the right thing by one of your best performers and offering financial assistance to the Pillman family. What he might have done behind the scenes still doesn’t excuse Vince’s obvious ratings grab highlighting the tragic end of one the best ever.
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