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WWE Network: Most Influential Moments Fans Can Enjoy

Erik BeastonFeatured Columnist IVDecember 21, 2016

WWE Network: Most Influential Moments Fans Can Enjoy

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    Credit: WWE.com

    With the arrival of the much-hyped WWE Network comes the ability for fans to relive some of the greatest and most influential moments in the history of professional wrestling.

    They are the moments that shine brightly in the annals of the sport and have helped to craft the product fans enjoy to this day.

    Some are iconic matches that have stood the test of time and remain benchmarks in the business. Others are matches that revolutionized the sport and changed the way the its men and women competed. Still others are singular events that elevated a new star to the top of the industry or forever changed the way business was done.

    Hulk Hogan, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Mick Foley, Sting, John Cena, Batista, CM Punk and Bret Hart are just a few Superstars featured in the game-changing moments.

    With the launch of the network early this morning, these moments will reach a larger audience, some of whom will see them for the first time.

WrestleMania (1985)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    On March 31, 1985, Vince McMahon put everything on the line to present an event that fused celebrity and wrestling, sport and spectacle, which was unlike any wrestling event ever presented on a national stage.

    To ensure its success, he negotiated with major television star Mr. T, pop star Cyndi Lauper, entertainment icon Liberace and arguably the greatest athlete of all time, Muhammad Ali.

    Mr. T in particular took to the ring in a major tag team main event in which he teamed with WWE champion Hulk Hogan to take on "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff and the hated loudmouth "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. Ali and Liberace, as well as legendary New York Yankees manager Billy Martin, filled different roles in and around the match, making it a must-see attraction. 

    With talent such as Andre the Giant, the Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, Greg Valentine, Junkyard Dog, Tito Santana and Barry Windham elsewhere on the card, there were enough stars to keep the die-hard wrestling fans happy.

    The show was a success for McMahon and his promotion, and some 30 years later, WrestleMania remains one of the biggest spectacles in both sports and entertainment.

Unstoppable Force vs. Immovable Object (WrestleMania III)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    While WrestleMania and its sequel were both big successes for Vince McMahon and the promotion then known as the World Wrestling Federation, it was WrestleMania III that showed the world what the event could be.

    Held in the historic Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., the show featured the culmination of several entertaining and memorable feuds, including the Intercontinental Championship program between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat.

    But the night's main event was responsible for attracting a brand-new, indoor attendance record of 93,173 fans to the dome. In that match, heavyweight champion Hulk Hogan would defend against the man known as the "Eighth Wonder of the World," the largest athlete in all of wrestling, Andre the Giant.

    Andre, one of the most beloved performers in the history of the sport, had made a heel turn after years of being undefeated in action and was portrayed as the biggest threat to Hogan's three-year run as champion.

    To quote the legendary in-ring performer, commentator and WWE Hall of Famer Gorilla Monsoon, the match was "a happening," and fans across the country absolutely had to see what would happen when the icons of the industry clashed in the biggest main event the industry had ever seen.

    The staredown. The early nearfall. The bear hug. The bodyslam.

    There are so many moments from the match that are memorable and recognizable. The crowd in Pontiac did an excellent job of making the bout feel as important as it was, and as a result, the promotion had an unquestionable hit on its hands.

    The company applied the tagline of "Bigger, Badder, Better" to the show, and thanks to a seminal main event and a tremendous undercard, it remains the benchmark for grand spectacles in professional wrestling.

The Dead Man Cometh (Survivor Series 1990)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    There is no greater phenom in World Wrestling Entertainment than The Undertaker, and the Dead Man made his debut in the company at the 1990 Survivor Series.

    Before the event, "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase promised a surprise partner on his Million Dollar Team. There was plenty of mystery surrounding the partner. Fans and insiders questioned just whom it could be. On November 22, those questions would be answered as the massive individual cloaked in black and with purple circles under his eyes stalked toward the ring under the guidance of Brother Love.

    The newcomer, dubbed Kane the Undertaker, had such a physically imposing presence about him and was so true to the character that he immediately won over the audience.

    The Undertaker, as he would be known after he dropped the "Kane" part of his name, dominated the competition but was counted out after heading outside to attack Dusty Rhodes.

    Within a year, the Dead Man would have earned the trust of management en route to capturing the WWE Championship from Hulk Hogan at 1991's Survivor Series event.

    Undefeated at WrestleMania, Undertaker possesses the most incredible undefeated streak in wrestling history. He is also among the most respected stars in all of sports-entertainment.

    One of the locker room leaders through the good and the bad times, he is integral to WWE history, and now fans who were too young to see his debut match with the company can enjoy the experience of watching the Dead Man walk to the ring for the very first time. 

Austin 3:16 (King of the Ring 1996)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The 1996 King of the Ring changed wrestling forever and introduced fans around the globe to one of the most iconic catchphrases of all-time.

    "Stone Cold" Steve Austin fought through a busted lip that required several stitches to defeat both "Wildman" Marc Mero and Jake "the Snake" Roberts en route to winning the King of the Ring tournament. Standing at the entrance way and being interviewed by Doc Hendrix (Michael Hayes), Austin cut what has become one of the greatest promos of all time.

    "Talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16...Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass."

    It was an immediate game-changing moment. The following night on Raw, signs popped up around the arena with "Austin 3:16" painted on them. With every week that passed, Austin gained more and more momentum, leading to his rivalry with Bret Hart, a babyface turn at WrestleMania XIV and one of the greatest main event babyface runs in the annals of sports-entertainment.

    Originally it was scheduled to be Hunter Hearst Helmsley winning the tournament and earning a push, but the backup proved to be much better for the company's odds of survival during the Monday Night Wars.

The Third Man (Bash at the Beach 1996)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    In May 1996, Scott Hall made a shocking debut on WCW Monday Nitro. Soon after, Kevin Nash appeared and the two former WWE (then WWF) standouts began a hostile takeover of the Ted Turner-owned company.

    At the 1996 Great American Bash, they went as far as to powerbomb Eric Bischoff through a table in a spot that was incredibly rare at the time, which popped with the audience. It was shocking but at the same time hip and cool. It was something WWE was simply not doing at the time.

    Eventually, a match was made for July's Bash at the Beach pay-per-view pitting WCW mainstay Sting, Lex Luger and Randy Savage against Nash, Hall and a mystery partner.

    Fans wondered whom the mystery partner would be. Could it possibly have been Bret Hart, whose contract with WWE was up? Would it be another former WWE Superstar looking to join the invaders?

    Those questions would be answered in the gigantic, hotly anticipated match.

    But not immediately.

    Nash and Hall wrestled at a numbers disadvantage for the majority of the bout. Then, later in the fight, Hulk Hogan made his way to the ring, bringing fans to their feet. It looked like the Hulkster would finally fight back against the villainous newcomers and banish them once and for all. 

    Then, it happened. For the first time in over a decade, Hogan turned heel. He dropped the big leg drop on Savage to the astonishment of the audience and ignited a renewed interest in wrestling, more specifically WCW, that would last for nearly three years.

    The leader of the New World Order, Hogan became wrestling's most hated heel and took WCW to heights it had never experienced before.

ECW Barely Legal (1997)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    In April 1997, Extreme Championship Wrestling held its very first pay-per-view event, titled Barely Legal. 

    The renegade promotion out of Philadelphia, headed by the visionary Paul Heyman, had captured the attention of the wrestling world thanks to its edgy storylines and violent in-ring action. Occasionally, the company would produce a great, more traditional wrestling match involving the likes of Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero, but it was the extreme nature of the product, the sex and violence of it all, that helped it stand out.

    Their first major event would feature the culmination of a year-long rivalry between Taz and Sabu. For months, the die-hard fans inside the ECW Arena in south Philadelphia chanted for the match. They wanted to see the promotion's two longtime standouts wage war with one another.

    The match lived up to the hype and concluded when Taz locked Sabu in the Tazmission, forcing him unconscious.

    It was a huge win for Taz, who would become the face of the promotion over the next year.

    Elsewhere on the card, Terry Funk's dedication to the small promotion was rewarded with an ECW Championship victory over Raven.

    The event continued to build on the wave of momentum that ECW had been riding early in the year, beginning with an appearance on Monday Night Raw, and firmly established them as the No. 3 company in professional wrestling.

Montreal Screwjob (Survivor Series 1997)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    One of the most infamous moments in WWE history occurred on November 9, 1997 when Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels and other high-ranking WWE officials orchestrated a plan to screw Bret Hart out of the WWE Championship in front of a live pay-per-view audience.

    The story has been endlessly discussed and dissected in the 17 years that have followed, but long story short, Hart was the champion and on his way out of the company. After being disrespected by Michaels behind the scenes, he refused to drop the title to his professional and personal rival.

    Determined not to let Hart defect to the competition with his championship still in his possession, McMahon screwed the Canadian in front of his fellow countrymen, ordering the bell rung and awarding the WWE title to Michaels.

    The fallout was spectacular.

    Hart debuted for WCW a month later as the company completely missed the boat with the hottest star in wrestling. Michaels was the top villain in the promotion until a back injury temporarily retired him for four years.

    McMahon struck while the iron was hot and became the most hated man in the sport for the better part of the next decade.

     

A Year in the Making (Starrcade 1997)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The main event of Starrcade 1997 featured the culmination of a long rivalry as Sting returned to the ring after a year of sulking around the rafters of WCW events.

    Feeling betrayed by the company he helped build and disgusted by what the New World Order had done to wrestling, he became a loner. He appeared at the top of arenas across the country, watching over the shows and the wrestlers below before finally descending and dishing out pain to anyone he felt wronged him.

    For weeks, WCW's J.J. Dillon did everything in his power to coerce Sting back into action. He offered him matches against lower-level NWO stars, but everyone in the audience knew whom Sting wanted to get his hands on. It was Hulk Hogan, and when that match was finally signed, wrestling fans had a legitimate dream match that they could look forward to.

    To its credit, WCW did a masterful job of hyping that match as something truly special. Eric Bischoff and WCW resisted the urge to blow off the feud early and instead let it mature over the course of one year until anticipation was at a fever pitch.

    The match is influential in that, while the build was outstanding, the execution was significantly less so, and as a result, the company really flubbed what could have been the deathblow to WWE.

    The company's inability to deliver a quality finale to the match opened the door for WWE to capitalize with the red-hot Steve Austin and the villainous Mr. McMahon. 

The Austin Era Is Upon Us (WrestleMania XIV)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    By March 1998, there was no bigger star in pro wrestling than "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. and WrestleMania XIV was to be his coronation as the top star in Vince McMahon's WWE.

    Booked in the main event against Shawn Michaels, the real conflict was between Austin and former boxing champion "Iron" Mike Tyson. The interactions between the two landed WWE a ton of mainstream media attention and as a result brought millions of new eyes to the product.

    With Tyson aligning himself with Michaels and D-Generation X, it seemed as though the odds were against the Texas Rattlesnake.

    Determined to achieve his goal and take the next step toward immortality, Austin overcame interference from Triple H and Chyna, overwhelming media presence and the potential distraction of Tyson to plant Michaels with the Stone Cold Stunner and score the pinfall victory, which Tyson counted.

    It was a momentous occasion that was made iconic thanks to commentator Jim Ross' call of the action and the win.

    To this day, "the Austin era has begun" remains one of the greatest soundbites in WrestleMania history.

We Are the Champions (WrestleMania 21)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    By 2005, the Attitude Era and the wrestling boom that had come with it had been long gone, and WWE was in desperate need of new stars to carry the promotion into the new generation.

    Those new stars came in the form of two former developmental standouts.

    Batista's rise to the top of the sport was an unexpected one. 

    The breakout star of Evolution was originally intended to be Randy Orton, but by the end of 2004, The Animal was gaining great momentum and crowd response thanks to the subtle manner in which he expressed himself. He was cool, cocky, confident and the complete opposite of some of the other stars of the era.

    A split from, and subsequent feud with, Triple H would carry him into his first solo match at WrestleMania and his first opportunity at the World Heavyweight Championship.

    John Cena, on the other hand, was the afterthought of a very talented group of guys to come out of WWE developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling. He had a great look but was never really allowed to showcase his personality.

    He caught a break in 2002 when he demonstrated an ability to freestyle rap, a talent that came in handy over the next two years as he became the so-called "Doctor of Thuganomics." The humor he brought to his rhymes led to him becoming one of the most popular stars in the industry.

    By 2005, it was time for him to take the next step and do just that, he would have to end the eight-month title reign of John Bradshaw Layfield at WrestleMania.

    Now, WWE Network gives fans the opportunity to witness WrestleMania 21, the night that WWE took a leap of faith and pushed both Batista and Cena to championship gold, anointing them the new top stars of the company.

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