It’s hard to tell sometimes with wrestling what is real or not. As much as WWE can be straightforward, it is still a wrestling company. And for decades, wrestling has maintained a line of kayfabe between the fans and the workers. Sure, you can claim it’s dead but it’s clearly there as something will happen, a moment that seems so wild and real and yet quite amazing to see. Some bits are obviously faked but others quite real like the “Curtain Call” that kicked off so much of the Attitude Era. Other bits are just a misfire (The Shockmaster) and that can be obvious to spot. But others aren’t. So many times, you see bits that looked totally for real and such but turned out to be scripted and planned. On the flip side, some moments really were a “shoot” whether a promo or a match and that turned into a wild mess.
It happens in every company, moments where it looks like something has happened not in the script but it turns out to be planned. However, even some planned bits can get out of hand and transform into something bigger by all parties. Wrestling is a passionate business and passions can turn any planned event into a disaster. Here are 20 moments in wrestling and whether they were real or scripted and that have constantly thrown fans majorly.
20 The Love Triangle
It’s believed it started as real, turned into a work but the real shades threw too much onto it. When Matt Hardy was out with injury in 2004, his real-life girlfriend, Amy “Lita” Dumas started hooking up with Adam “Edge” Copeland. They kept it quiet but Matt found out and blew up on the Internet about it. Soon, the word was out as Matt was fired after more of his rants. Meanwhile, Edge was elevated to a new level by it as Lita turned heel and they worked together. In late 1995, with no warning, Matt ran out to attack Edge backstage and then in the ring. The announcers didn’t talk over it so it was believed it really was for real. That was followed by him screaming at Lita on a live interview show.
Matt was signed on and pushed with the idea coming of him using this fame to get rehired and WWE taking advantage of the whole thing for publicity. But the actual feud was a letdown and it appears the two men just couldn’t get over their real-life feelings to be professional enough for great matches. Things remain tense between all parties and how real life and wrestling relationships don’t mix.
19 ECW Rips on WWE
ECW was always built on blurring the lines and making fans wonder what was real or not. Raven once brilliantly summed up how “the smart fans who think they know everything are the easiest ones to con.” Three times, on WWE’s own shows, major ECW faces have taken that aspect to a new level. Back in 1996, Vince was on their live “Livewire” show when a “caller” turned out to be Paul Heyman screaming on how WWE was afraid of ECW and some questions on Vince’s dealings. In late 2001, right before Survivor Series, Heyman did an in-ring promo against Vince McMahon. To Vince’s own face, Heyman screamed on how Vince had ruined the business by turning it into “sports entertainment” and mocking WWE’s approach to things. It was amazing to see Vince stone-faced taking it all in and while it ended with Taz attacking Heyman, it was still notable for the two going at it.
Then in 2006, Joey Styles went on a tirade, slapping Jerry Lawler then took to the mic to rip into how he felt ashamed having to call WWE matches in their style with Vince constantly in his ear telling him what to say. This was planned to give Styles a move to the new ECW brand but still remarkable how he trashed the current product. For Vince to give his okay to these moves and make them look “real” was daring although even he didn’t expect them to go so far.
18 Halloween Havoc ‘92
Bill Watts’ tenure in WCW is notable for his rather backward booking and antics. He banned moves off the top rope, force kayfabe and cut costs to an extreme point so many were unhappy with him. He did get respect for a stronger workrate but some of his actions just seemed baffling for a 1990s audience. After making a huge deal of “we’re not going to be some cartoon,” Watts oversaw the filming of a mini-movie for Halloween Havoc that had lasers coming out of Sting and Jake Roberts’ eyes. It was to be a “Spin The Wheel, Make the Deal” match with a wheel of various match types set up like cage, Texas Death, Falls Count Anywhere and more. The wheel landed on a “Coal Miner’s Glove” match.
Some believe that Watts wanted the wheel to be real and it landed on that match by chance as surely Watts couldn’t believe that for a PPV main event. Others contend it was planned as Watts was behind the times. The match ended with Sting winning and setting up a bit where Jake was to be bitten by his cobra. But the snake refused to do it so we had the laughable site of Jake lying on the mat, screaming as he held his cobra to his face. Whether planned or real, it all ended in a joke for fans.
17 The Loose Cannon
Arn Anderson perhaps summed up Brian Pillman best: “He was either the smartest crazy man I ever knew or the craziest smart man I ever knew.” Nothing proved that more than his “Loose Cannon” period as to this day, people argue over how much was an act and how much was real. Eric Bischoff claims he helped create it but many contend Bischoff was as suckered as everyone else and doesn’t want to admit it. In 1996, Pillman began acting up in the ring and out of it. He stopped a match with Kevin Sullivan to say “I respect you, Booker-man.” He attacked Bobby Heenan without warning, causing Heenan to drop an f-bomb on live TV. Behind the scenes, Pillman was just wild and zany to the point many were worried he’d really lost his mind. No one had ever pulled something like this before and it got huge buzz.
Pillman talked Bischoff into giving his release from WCW to “make it look real.” As soon as he had it, Pillman showed up in ECW for promos that Paul Heyman says he helped work out. That got him signed to WWE but a horrible car accident nearly ruined his body. Pillman kept at it with wild bits like the infamous “gun showdown” with Steve Austin that nearly got RAW kicked off the air. His antics continued but sadly, Pillman’s abuse of drugs came to haunt him as he died suddenly in late 1997. But his legend continues with many wondering how far he went working everyone and that he may have ended up being his own worst victim.
16 Kimura vs Rikidozan
Long before the wrestling promotions we know today, Japan was giving fans one truly insane moment. For months, the dream match had been building between the country’s two biggest stars. On the one hand was Kimura, who’d lost only four bouts in his lifetime and regarded as a genius worker. On the other was Rikidozan, a former sumo star who was the most popular worker in the country. The tension was great as Japanese fans expected a real fight. They sure got that. During the bout, Kimura allowed Rikidozan to hit him with a chop in the chest as planned. Without warning, Rikidozan suddenly assaulted him with numerous chops at full force, one of which hit Kimura in the neck and knocked him out. Rikidozan stomped him down as Kimura was declared unable to continue and the match stopped.
Kimura was outraged by this and he wasn’t alone. Just days later, at a nightclub, Rikidozan was stabbed by a man with a urine-soaked knife. He seemed to be okay but died of infection a week later. It seemed the man was a member of the Yakuza who’d lost money because of the match and shows how trying to “get real” just leads to horrible consequences.
15 Brawl For All
Frankly, this could have gone so much better if it had been scripted. Jim Ross had a lot of sway in WWE in 1998 and came up with the idea of a big fighting competition to decide the best. The bouts would be for real, a mix of boxing and other types of fighting in rounds. Ross pitched it, assuming Steve “Dr. Death” Williams would win it and then be pushed as the new challenger for Steve Austin. However, the fact the fights were real threw that out when Williams was knocked out cold by Bart Gunn. The bouts were loathed by fans who booed loudly and wanted real wrestling. It didn’t help that slews of real injuries took place that hurt quite a few guys like Savio Vega and others. Planning this could have helped but making it a “real” fight ruined it and turned this Brawl into one of the biggest misfires of the Attitude Era.
14 Luger and the Cage
When Lex Luger started out, he got a huge push thanks to his look and physique. In just two weeks, he won his first title in Florida and got huge attention. This led to a swelled head and clashing with guys a lot. In early 1987, Luger was ready to jump to Jim Crockett with his final Florida match against Bruiser Brody in a cage. What happened next is…well, it depends who you talk to. One story is that Brody came to the ring with tacks on his fingers and shot on Luger, no-selling his offense and Luger ran off in terror. However, you can also contend that Luger just got fed up with Brody refusing to sell anything and left the cage in disgust. Regardless, it was a strange match to see and Luger literally walked out of Florida without bothering to change clothes to make this an ugly exit.
13 Savage and the Snake
Here’s a case of a scripted moment that got out of control. In 1991, Randy Savage was “retired” as Jake Roberts had just turned heel. After the Ultimate Warrior left, Roberts targeted Savage, attacking him as his SummerSlam wedding reception and taunting him constantly. Fired up, Savage attacked Roberts after he insulted Elizabeth and they brawled in the ring. Roberts tied Savage up in the ropes and pulled out his king cobra to gnaw on Savage’s arm. It was a shocking moment but it was complicated as the cobra didn’t cooperate at first so Roberts had to force it onto Savage.
Once it did, it turned out the snake enjoyed the taste as it refused to let go and Roberts had to forcibly pry it off Savage’s arm. The cobra was non-toxic but Savage had to see a doctor for it and showed why animals and wrestling rarely mix well.
12 2005 Royal Rumble
This is just bizarre. As the 2005 Royal Rumble went on, it was clear it was coming down to Batista and John Cena. Both quite over and pushed hard, both guys fought it out and then went over the ropes together. It’s been assumed that Batista messed up what was supposed to be a clean elimination. But others contend that WWE planned it this way, to keep both guys popular and give a wilder finish.
Then came the truly insane part as Vince McMahon strode to the ring, slid underneath and somehow tore both his quads. So we had the sight of Vince sitting on the mat, yelling at the two and various refs on how to proceed. The match continued with Batista throwing Cena out but the strange ending is what fans remember as Vince suffered a very real injury amid a moment still argued as to whether it was planned or botched.
11 11 Starrcade ’97
This was supposed to be WCW’s crowning moment but it turned into the beginning of the end. For over a year, they had been building to Sting vs Hulk Hogan with Sting winning over fans with his new “Crow” look and hunting Hogan about. It was finally set for the big showdown at Starrcade and to many, the outcome was obvious. Sting would crush Hogan in convincing fashion to win the title. It was the only thing that made sense. Instead, a seemingly blown-up Sting was manhandled by Hogan through the match, climaxing with Hogan hitting the leg drop for the cover and Sting failing to kick out. Bret Hart came to restart the match, claiming Sting was fast-counted (he wasn't) with Sting winning but the damage was done.
Most assume that Hogan got into the ear or the ref and threw a tantrum, refusing to drop the belt cleanly despite all the build. Eric Bischoff claims the plan was for Sting to kick out at two but he messed it up. Sting himself is mostly quiet but clearly some behind the scenes stuff going on and it all combined into a mess that began WCW’s fall from the top.
10 Lawler vs Kaufman
This was sheer genius. Andy Kaufman was known for blurring lines in his work as an actor. He even created an obnoxious alter ego of “Tony Clifton” and tried to have people think they were two totally separate people. In 1982, Kaufman began wrestling women in Memphis and boasting of his great power in the ring. That led to a match with Jerry Lawler where Lawler slammed Kaufman on his neck and then a piledriver, leading to Kaufman wearing a neck brace for weeks. That built to the infamous interview on David Letterman when Kaufman went on a curse-filled tirade and tossed a drink at Lawler, who chased him around. They feuded more with Kaufman acting like it was for real and most were convinced these two hated each other.
Amazingly, it took a decade after Kaufman’s death for Lawler to finally reveal that the two had cooked the whole thing up together. Kaufman was amazing selling it all and even Lawler admits he had no idea how far the guy would go with stuff like the Letterman interview. For them to fool so many fans is remarkable to showcase how Kaufman had a mind for wrestling as much as comedy.
9 Punk’s Pipebomb
It’s the moment that made CM Punk a legend. On June 27, 2010, Punk walked onto the ramp at Monday Night RAW, sitting cross legged and proceeded to go on a tirade on the mic. He tore into everything: Vince McMahon out of touch, Stephanie idiotic, HHH “a doofus,” mentioning his time in ROH and Japan, dropping names of workers and more. It was astounding as Punk tore into WWE as being what fans hated, how he considered himself more “real” and even slamming many of the fans not demanding anything better. It appeared to be totally and completely off the cuff and mixed but it has been revealed that Punk had several of his comments approved by McMahon, although Vince was unaware of how far he’d go with them. It did make Punk the hottest guy in wrestling and remarkable how far Punk was able to take this to blur the lines big time.
8 Andre vs Maedea
On the one hand, Andre the Giant was a fantastic star in his prime and not bad in the ring in his younger days. On the other hand, Andre was infamous for just going ahead and doing what he wanted and at his size, no one could stop him. Andre had a record for “going into business for himself” in the ring against a variety of guys and nowhere was that bigger than his bout with Akira Maeda in 1986. A major fighter, Maeda was pushed against Andre but the bout turned into a total disaster. Some claim Andre was drunk (a common thing with him) and thus refused to cooperate. Others believe that Andre was pushed by Inoki to teach Maeda a lesson for the man going against Inoki in some business moves.
At one point, Andre just laid on the mat and openly bellowed for Akira to pin him but he refused. Any narrative was abandoned and Inoki himself had to come in and tell both guys off in order to quell an angry crowd. To this day, the argument rages if this was an Inoki power play or just a drunk Giant but either way, it ended in a mess.
7 Victory Road 2011
This was a low point in TNA’s history, which is saying a lot. After weeks of build, the Victory Road PPV was to culminate in Sting defending the TNA World title against Jeff Hardy. A long pause came after Jeff’s music hit and Hardy came out, quite clearly under the influence. He stumbled into the ring and just swayed about, obviously in no condition to compete. After Sting came out, Erich Bischoff entered and clearly telling the ref and Hardy a new plan.
He was taken out as Sting and Hardy circled, traded punches and then Sting hit a Scorpion Death Drop for the pin. The main event lasted less than a minute and the fans were livid. To many, for TNA to not even know how bad Hardy was before this was appalling and some wonder if Bischoff wanted to have Hardy be humiliated as a lesson. Regardless, it was clearly Jeff’s fault showing up so badly and making himself and the company look terrible.
6 Paul Heyman vs TNN
In 1999, ECW finally got the nationwide coverage it’d been fighting for as its weekly TV series moved from just syndication to The National Network. However, the company was in rough shape with more guys jumping ship to WWE and WCW and Heyman (infamously bad at business) having trouble paying guys off properly. It got worse when Heyman discovered that TNN was in negotiations to get RAW and only picked ECW to “test the waters” of wrestling with their audience. That led to an epic tirade by Heyman screaming at how much he hated the network and slamming WWE as well. Heyman openly said this was “a true shoot” and it was amazing to see him rip into TNN on their own airing. Heyman says this was his own feelings and didn’t care who he ticked off, showing his temper could get the better of him.
5 The Spider Lady
Long before Montreal, this was a major double cross by Vince McMahon. In 1985, Wendi Richter was a huge deal, the Women’s champion and boosting women’s wrestling to a great new height. Richter began feeling her fame and went to Vince to demand more money, Hogan-level money. Instead of giving in, Vince instead decided to teach Richter a lesson. At Madison Square Garden, Richter faced the Spider Lady, a masked worker whose moves looked very familiar. They fought it out with Spider pinning Richter down, despite Richter clearly kicking out but the ref counted to three.
They fought more before Richter yanked off the mask to reveal the Fabulous Moolah. Moolah left with Richter not grasping she’d lost until the belt was taken away from her. Richter soon left and it ranks as a major event that showed crossing Vince is never a good thing.
4 RVD/Eddie Interference
“Enjoy the show, don’t be the show.” It’s a mantra in wrestling for fans as so many of them tend to think of themselves as more important than they are. It’s one thing to “hijack” a RAW show with major chants and such. It’s another to actually run out and try to mess things up. That happened in 2002 when Rob Van Dam and Eddie Guerrero faced off on RAW in a ladder match for the Intercontinental title. It was a good battle to be expected from two great workers and they were doing fine with it. With RVD down, Eddie grabbed the ladder and began scaling it to the belt. Suddenly, a fan raced into the ring and pushed the ladder over. Eddie landed on his feet okay and took a shot at the fan before security dragged him out. The moment was edited out of future video releases and shows how fans can get a little too wild for their own good.
3 Shane Douglas Throwing Down NWA title
It was the moment that was the Birth of Extreme. In 1994, Eastern Championship Wrestling was still part of the NWA which was a shadow of its former self. A tournament for a new champion was held, won by Shane Douglas. Douglas took to the mic and did a big speech on the long list of former NWA champs and then declared “they can all kiss my ass!” Throwing down the belt, Douglas declared he was not going to be the standard for a title of an organization long dead. He then held up the ECW belt and declared himself the world champion of that organization.
This transformed the company into Extreme Championship Wrestling to change the business forever. NWA president Dennis Coralluzzo decried the move but it turned out he was in on it. However, he was under the impression this would still leave Douglas as NWA champion and have some title matches. Instead, Todd Gordon and Paul Heyman split ECW off for real and left the NWA high and dry. It would change so much in the business and still a shocking moment to look back on.
2 Bash at the Beach 2000
This one is a wild one. At Bash at the Beach 2000, Jeff Jarrett came out to defend the WCW World title against Hulk Hogan. However, Vince Russo came out to yell and then Jarrett just laid down to let Hogan pin him. Hogan then snapped at Russo screwing things up and walked out. Russo came out to do a big rant declaring Hogan would never be seen again and giving the title back to Jarrett. This led to a match of Jarrett losing the title to Booker T.
The confusion abounded as it came out later that Hogan and Russo cooked this up with the idea of Russo once more “bending reality” with their work and making things look a shoot. The plan was for Hogan to take time out and then make a big return. However, Hogan took offense at Russo’s wild speech mocking Hogan on his baldness and slamming his character. This led to a real fall-out and even lawsuits. Thus, it was meant as a worked shoot but turned into the real thing, wild even by WCW standards.
The arguments about this rage today. How much of it was work and how much was real is still debated. Bret Hart has openly said “we worked ourselves into a shoot” and the clashes with Vince and Shawn Michaels are well known. To many, it’s clear: Bret thought he’d leave the 1997 Survivor Series with the WWE title and Vince refused. So Bret went in thinking it was a good match but it ended with him in the Sharpshooter and Vince calling for the bell. Shawn pleaded innocence but it turned out he was in on it fully and the fallout has been famous.
Yet some cling to the idea this whole thing was a massive work. They contend that Bret was in on this to make himself look a sympathetic figure and still a hero to his home nation of Canada. It may seem crazy but then, Bret was an expert playing folks already and this would have given him more of a push to WCW.
Again, it seems unlikely but many contend how this seemingly epic shoot was a work that all three men continue to push as real to make it legendary and stand out majorly. If we had to put a verdict on this though, you have to go with it being real.