While this list is in no way inclusive to every moment that has shaped our beloved business, this is my view as to the top moments that changed professional wrestling forever. I'm not going to preface it, because there is no way to preface some of the greatest turning points in sports entertainment. So, enjoy the read, and hopefully, enjoy the ensuing debate!
5. The Four Horsemen. Simply put, before the Four Horsemen arrived on the scene, wrestling was primarily about one or two men going up against another one or two men. There had been loose friendships before in the business, but when Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, and Arn & Ole Anderson, with the managerial services of J.J. Dillon, formed up their posse, they changed the way business was done.
Furthermore, they set the stage for stables down the line—guys who may not always, and oftentimes rarely do, wrestle together exclusively, but rather guys who watch out for each other, both in the ring and behind the curtain.
Before the Horsemen, you only had to worry about your opponents in the ring, their managers, and potentially other wrestlers you might have had a beef with. With the Horsemen, you knew that, even if you were only "riding" against one member, you were riding against all four or five.
4. The T.I.T. Final. What, you don't remember the T.I.T. final? Yes, you do. The Terri Invitational Tournament was a best-of-five series between two up-and-coming teams for $100,000 and the rights to the managerial services of Terri Runnels. The two teams? The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge and Christian. The final match? A ladder match at No Mercy 1999, with the money and contract suspended high in the air.
Ladder matches were not new. Tag matches were not new. Stipulation matches were not new. And death-defying moves in matches were not new. What was new was combining them all, and doing it with four guys, none of whom were particularly physically imposing. In the ladder matches and Hell In A Cell matches and all the matches before that, at least one of the competitors was a fairly large individual.
The same couldn't be said for this match. Further, they not only got wicked violent, but did so in some of the most innovative ways the business had ever seen. The new innovation has led to an era where it's not only cool to get extreme, but to top your opponent in doing so. Like a suplex from the top of a ladder?
How's about someone using a ladder as a ramp against another ladder to perform a clothesline? How's about someone spearing a person that's hanging onto the prize above? How's about a moonsault while holding a ladder? Thanks to the innovation of Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy, Adam Copeland, and Jay Reso, we have seen all these, and more.
3. The Fingerpoke of Doom. Considering it on its own merits, this incident (the reigning WCW World Heavyweight Champion Kevin Nash, fresh off ending Bill Goldberg's famed 176-0 streak, taking a dive for "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan with a fingerpoke to the chest) was silly and harmful to WCW. But did it really change wrestling forever?
Well, at that point, WCW was still locked in a ratings war with WWF. WWF had made a resurgence, but it was still very close. Following the "F.O.D.", WCW never had a ratings win after that. Desperate to win, WCW got rid of the one person who made WCW work, Eric Bischoff, and brought in Vince Russo and Ed Ferrera—two talented writers, but only with a strong personality to reign in their "creative juices."
Without that strong leadership over them, they personally and cruelly insulted some of the finest people ever to work in the business, nearly ruined the careers and legacies of verified legends, and brought to us WCW World Heavyweight Champion...David Arquette, hailing from the famed "1-800-CALL-ATT" wrestling family.
Less than 2 1/2 years after the F.O.D., WCW was bought by Vince McMahon, assuring a one-company dominance of the business, which some have hypothesized has created a significant downfall in both in-ring and storyline quality.
And all that, with one little finger.
2. The year that was 1997. There are so many moments in this one year that changed the face of sports entertainment, that to not condense them into one package would leave out so many other deserving moments. So, let's go through them chronologically.
- "Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. Bret "Hitman" Hart, Submission Match, Wrestlemania 13: While not the first time the fast-rising Austin and the veteran Hart had locked horns, this match had classic written all over it. But nobody—NOBODY—could have foreseen what the end of the match would do for the business. As Hart locked the infamous Sharpshooter submission hold onto a bloodied and battered Austin, fans witnessed history.
The iconic image of Austin, in pain, tattered, but refusing to quit, eventually allowing himself to pass out rather than give up, cemented Austin's rise as the consummate anti-hero--a man who did the things you shouldn't do, but made you admire and appreciate him for his never-say-die attitude.
More than perhaps any other moment, this image made Austin the next huge star of the wrestling world. And, considering Austin's prime role in forming the Attitude era, and the new generation of faces in wrestling, the most key event in the formation of his character would serve as one of the key moments that changed wrestling.
- The formation of D-Generation X. Another fixture of the Attitude era, the WWF counterpart to the NWO took on a decidedly different attitude from anything we had seen before. Rather than trying to be the biggest and baddest stable, or evil, or whatever, DX took the sophomoric, sarcastic attitude of Generation X and Generation Y and mocked anything and anyone in sight.
Nothing was sacred to DX. Facing the USA Network telling WWF to tone it down, DX ratcheted it up about 5 more notches--and in doing so, won over the USA Network for directly mocking them. On the heels of perhaps the most controversial scandal in wrestling history, DX mocked the "victim" of the scandal.
Simply put, they made it cool to use catchphrases and jokes from wrestling (and, on a side note, I got huge cheers at my high school graduation in 1998 for sending a crotch chop in the direction of the school principal and superintendent after I received my diploma. Imagine that 10 or 20 years prior!).
- The Montreal Screwjob. So we had the rebel. But it's not really cool if you're only rebelling against people without power. Meanwhile, an established veteran star was trying to keep his career and his pocketbook intact, but on certain conditions.
At the same time, a wrestling promoter was locked in a struggle for the life and death of his company against a foe that had shown they were ruthless in doing what it took to win, and had already expressed their intentions to not just win, but to literally destroy their competition. In this perfect storm of November, we watched as the most controversial, real-life event took place. Without the benefit of the backdrop of history, it simply looks like a vengeful owner taking revenge on his departing superstar.
With the hindsight of history, we see that there are multiple angles to look at it from. The controversy has not died, over 11 years later, cementing its place in history. That alone assures its spot on the list. But where it really changed the course of history was in how Vince McMahon was received after the event.
Simply put, the now despised McMahon gave the fans someone to hate, who truly held power and could wield it like so many bosses they had experienced. Enter the rebel, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, who locked horns with McMahon over the next four years, and even today, creating one of the most unforgettable rivalries in wrestling.
Even today, McMahon's character is seen in both his and his family's portrayals in the current day, and in the way certain "GM's" and promoters play to the crowd. And thus 1997 was complete, setting it's mark on the wrestling world forever.
1. Vince McMahon expands the business. As long as professional wrestling had existed, the business was separated into territories. Most of this was due to the rigors, at the beginning of the business, of being able to put on multiple shows across a region larger than one or two states.
As our world shrunk, though, the territory system remained the same. Wrestling promoters, never ones to seek out any changes or possible disruptions to the system, never saw the true potential that travel and telecommunications innovations had for their business, but were instead content to take their small pittances rather than take a chance.
Enter one Vincent Kennedy McMahon. The once-estranged son of a family of sports and wrestling promoters, McMahon bought his father's promotion in 1982, the newly-named World Wrestling Federation, with a specific vision in mind: to take the passion that individual fans shared for their various promotions, and bring it all under one company and one roof.
Almost immediately, he started receiving death threats from his new competition, but remained undeterred. His vision was laid out in the form of Wrestlemania—today known as the Super Bowl of professional wrestling, but at the time, an extraordinarily risky move that had never been tried before.
His combination of technology, the merger of pop culture with sports entertainment, and his commitment to trying out the untested, took wrestling from the smoke-filled 5,000 venues of yesteryear to now consistently selling out the largest venues available to the entertainment world, and has made stars out of great and even average talent.
Whatever your thoughts of the current state of wrestling, there is no doubting that McMahon's vision has changed our world, and in doing so, has bettered it beyond what anyone could have imagined only 25 or 30 short years ago.
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