Pro Wrestling: 25 of the Most Iconic Moments in Wrestling History
It is sometimes easy to forget that wrestling has a history. Many view it simply as a fake soap opera with no real substance. And yet like many other sports, it does have a heritage, a tradition and a past.
Fans who have watched for years grow up with respective superstars; they watch them debut, develop, grow and eventually retire.
There are some, however, who do not get to retire, and we have experienced the grief of losing superstars, many of whom died before their time. Accidents, drug overdoses, heart attacks and murders...wrestling has had more than its fair share.
But there are also moments of history that are great sporting achievements. Snapshots of pure athleticism, of pure guts and glory, sheer brilliance. The nature of wrestling gives the fans an entertainment value on par with any sport.
And because of this, it has a history to be proud of. There are moments of course of great controversy and this can tarnish the tradition and spirit of wrestling itself.
This slideshow presentation does not seek to paper over the cracks as it were. It recognizes that there are many incidents where wrestling has not addressed its accusations of being a steroid-driven carnival act. We all can name particular examples of such infamous moments, but that can be for another article.
This article simply focuses on the great history of wrestling, as seen through one fan's eyes.
25: The Retirement of Ric Flair at Wrestlemania XXIV
This could have been near the top had it not been for TNA. I know the arguments that he has the right to return, but retirement matches are emotive affairs.
When Flair moved to TNA, it destroyed this moment, but if he never sets foot in a WWE ring again, then maybe it might regain some of its luster.
There is a time for every wrestler to retire, and Flair, by choosing to go out at Wrestlemania, did it with class. There is no greater stage on which to depart for a WWE superstar.
But it could be argued that Ric was not a WWE superstar. He spent a lot of time in WCW and NWA and so the link between him and McMahon's group was not as strong as say that of Shawn Michaels or the Undertaker.
And so his decision to go back on his retirement match was not necessarily as "disrespectful."
Regardless, that final superkick and Ric begging for the end brought a rush of emotion for all.
24: Undertaker Vs. Giant Gonzalez
Like many of the Undertaker's formidable opponents, Giant Gonzalez was billed as a monster. His character was founded on his amazing stature and because of that he was touted as being able to defeat the Deadman.
However, this match was at Wrestlemania, and retrospectively looking back, there was only going to be one winner.
The match itself was hardly a classic when compared with other Undertaker matches, but it was an iconic moment nonetheless when the Undertaker was towered over by the mighty Gonzalez.
This was also Wrestlemania IX, the Roman-themed spectacular that also saw Jim Ross in a toga—which narrowly missed a place in the top 25.
23: The Real Sting
Sting was WCW. From his face paint to his baseball bat, Sting—whether as the franchise or the crow—was popular. His image is one of the most recognizable in wrestling.
A free agent at present, whatever federation signs him will be guaranteed an immediate six months of sustained rating increases and creative strength.
The one moment that stood for me was when multiple crow Stings began to attack the nWo. They were repelled with wigs and face masks flying and Hollywood Hogan beaming from ear to ear. The arrival of yet more Stings saw only further confidence from the nWo as they too went flying.
However, one Sting was real. One Sting did not go down after one hit. And as Buff Bagwell strutted and posed, he was about to be scorpion death-dropped. Steve Borden had finally arrived. In less than a minute, Sting had cleared the ring.
As a promo, it was pure genius and helped create the image that was the crow Sting. As the nWo threatened to take over the company at least one member was standing up for WCW.
The impact of his character is such that a decade later, Sting is still in high demand.
22: Paul Bearer Turns on The Undertaker
As an Undertaker fan, it was hard to watch. A golden partnership broken up.
It was a risk, as all heel turns can be. When the Undertaker and Bearer split, it shocked the wrestling world. But as a moment in history it is pivotal.
From then on, both Bearer and Undertaker became richer characters. Gone was the simple concept of a Deadman winning despite all odds.
Suddenly the Undertaker was losing matches against the likes of Mankind and Kane. But in return, he came back more aggressive and seeking vengeance.
The Attitude Era required both characters to develop and in the long term, the split allowed for the Undertaker to become the American Bad Ass before returning to the Deadman character once more.
I would like to see them reunited one more time before 'Taker retires, but given their recent storylines, it's questionable whether they would bring Bearer back.
21: Goldberg Wins His First World Title Against Hollywood Hulk Hogan
When the streak began, two questions began to be asked: How far could he go, and who would put an end to Goldberg?
As the victories started to mount and the legends began to fall, including a stiff William Regal, people began to wonder. Momentum was carrying Goldberg towards the main event.
Cue the match that many in the wrestling world had wanted. The streak was on the line against a champion that had embodied the old guard, Hulk Hogan.
The only mistake in this match was the fact that it was not used to headline a PPV, instead appearing free for all on Nitro. In front of 40,000 in the Georgia Dome on the June 6, 1998, Goldberg was ready to challenge for the top prize.
It was the embodiment of that much-talked-about "big fight feel."
As Hogan approached defeat, the crowd became concerned that a run-in would occur, but as Goldberg hit the jackhammer, the referee called 1, 2, 3. The wrestling world was shocked.
For many, it was the passing of the torch. Goldberg should have led WCW into the next millennium. Some will argue that Goldberg was the wrong choice as the vanilla midgets headed to WWE glory.
At no point was WCW's demise inevitable. However, the inability of the company to develop its creative lines meant that they folded in 2001.
But at least on this night, they put on a show to remember.
20: John Morrison's Spider-Man
I know, it is too early for this incident to be in any top 25 moments, but I genuinely believe that this will go down as one of the greatest feats of athleticism.
Given the mistake of Alex Riley later in the 2011 Royal Rumble, the chances of a botch were very real and yet he performed the three moves flawlessly.
First was the initial jump to the barricade, no guarantee. Next was the walk along the barricade, no mean feat, then the jump to the ringsteps from a less-than-secure grounding.
It has become part of Morrison's character that he is able to do such moves. Remember the Steamboat/Michaels move to get back into the ring—well, this is today's equivalent.
Pure athleticism and unpredictability.
19: Razor Ramon Vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania X
Not the first time that Shawn will be featured in this presentation, but he deserves every place. Mr. Wrestlemania always had a flair for the main event, irrespective of whether he won or lost. His ability, sometimes, to put over others ensured that he had many great matches.
And this one was one of the very best, not only in his career, but in wrestling history. The Garden has rarely seen better.
Maybe it was because the ladder match was a new concept (this being only the second such match), or maybe it was simply a case of great storytelling, but Razor vs. Shawn was a classic. It still seems strange to see Diesel at ringside attacking his friend Razor, but the Klique was at this point well-hidden.
The quality of the match will forever be etched in our memories by that iconic moment when Shawn leapt from the top of the ladder onto Razor.
The Intercontinental belt meant something back then. How we need those days back. And despite this move, it was the face, Razor Ramon, that would capture the belt on this night.
Of note, it is believed that Bret Hart is responsible for bringing the ladder in, having seen it used in Stampede Wrestling in the 1970s.
He would win the very first ladder match against.......Shawn Michaels. And on this point, it is interesting to note that Shawn, for being so synonymous with the ladder, has actually lost more matches than he has won!
18: Undertaker's Streak
This will be much higher in future slideshows. But like any movie, we cannot be sure of its lasting success until it is over, and I, for one, believe he will never lose at Wrestlemania. This year is likely to be a low-key affair unless it involves Triple H and Shawn Michaels.
The streak has lasted the Undertaker's entire career. To think of him is to think of the career. There are those on the list who are sadly no longer with us, and that in itself shows just how much history there is in the streak.
The Undertaker has taken on the big, the bad, the strong, the giants, the behemoths and the legends. And all have been vanquished. There are very few people left capable of ending this streak. If Shawn Michaels couldn't, no one on today's roster can.
Only a returning legend could possibly win, and even here it is a stretch to find someone physically up to the job.
We shan't see another one quite like the Undertaker, but the history he will leave behind when he retires will be something for the ages.
In terms of the iconic nature of the streak, the image comes from Wrestlemania XXVI and that scene when the Titantron reveals the 18-0. But yet it could also be a thousand other images to represent this impressive streak.
17: Hulk Hogan Arrives in WCW
It is testament to the popularity of Hulk Hogan that he seemingly brings fans with him wherever he goes. His move to WCW was heralded with a ticker-tape procession, it was as if a king had arrived. And in some ways, he had. Wrestling had no greater figurehead in the 1980s and 1990s than Hulk Hogan.
He remains a figure, though of great controversy. His booking power has always been regarded by many as counting against his legacy in professional wrestling. His inability to leave the spotlight has put down many other superstars.
The collapse of WCW has to be in part due to their ineffective creative direction, something that Hogan, Flair and Nash as experienced competitors should have been managing.
And yet, when he joined TNA, the same story happened. Almost in an instant, he gave the brand an international awareness. Whether he has added anything remains questionable, but he's still a huge name.
When the record books are closed on Hogan, there will be many arguments against him, but irrespective of that he remains a legend, and his arrival in WCW propelled them towards huge success for the years that followed.
16: Ric Flair Reunites the Four Horsemen on Nitro, Sept. 14, 1998
It is arguably one of the best promos in wrestling history. The night that the Horsemen returned and Ric Flair was welcomed back to North Carolina. Flair had been banished from the screens due to a no-show lawsuit filed by Eric Bischoff, and so his return was a surprise to many.
The passion of the crowd that night together with the reception given to Flair was immense. The angle was not continued though as WCW pushed Flair into a crazed character that involved stripping down to his underpants. But on this night, Flair was heralded as a wrestling icon by his home fans.
Young wrestlers breaking into the business can learn a lot from the likes of Flair and Piper in the ways of interacting with crowds. Sometimes its skill on the microphone, sometimes it's just massive respect. On this night, Flair was king.
15: The Return of Bret Hart
I'm not sure I ever looked forward to an episode of Raw quite like I did on Jan. 4, 2010. The return of Bret Hart was unthinkable. Few would believe it to be true until they heard the guitar riff play and he appeared at the top of the ramp. He had returned.
Montreal was a blight on WWE. It made financial sense for McMahon but in terms of common decency for one of the most loyal and popular superstars, it was simply wrong. Ultimately when the history books are written, many will say that McMahon screwed the WWE, or himself.
The return of Hart allowed a line to be drawn under the whole affair. No longer will our memories of Hart in the WWE be of that infamous night, but rather as the superstar we all admire.
His latest run was perhaps lacking in physicality, but having him on the shows was enough for the loyal fans of the Hitman.
Hart and his knowledge and respect for wrestling must be employed in the future in either a creative and/or producing capacity. Maybe even a commentator, as long as he remembers not to say WWF!!!!
14: Hulk Hogan Vs. Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania XIX
It was hardly a classic match. It was hardly a technical affair. But as an image it is of huge significance.
Two of wrestling's biggest names battled it out for supremacy at Wrestlemania. It would take on even more significance when Hogan would leave for TNA, but in 2003, it was still iconic to see the two men in the same ring.
It was a marquee match and Vince McMahon, as he often does, rolled over and allowed Hogan to take a popular victory.
Many hoped that the two would compete on an inter-federational basis as TNA moved to Monday nights, but that fell by the wayside. Hopes that Hogan might inspire a second Monday Night War remain questionable.
But in this moment, the creator of modern wrestling squared off against its biggest star.
13: Undertaker Vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XXV
This is for me the greatest wrestling match in history. And had this been a slideshow of the greatest moments in history, the best match in history, the best feud, the best series of matches, it would be No. 1.
But because this is about iconic moments, it features at No. 13. And the image that I have chosen which I think sums up the incredible nature of the match, is that of the Undertaker's face.
It was an expression we were all wearing as the match went back and forth, and if you watch the front row of the audience, their reactions are priceless. It tells the story of one of the most unpredictable and exciting matches in all of wrestling.
If you have not seen this match, you have yet to see wrestling as it should be.
12: Stone Cold Steve Austin Bleeds at Wrestlemania XIII
My brother couldn't look that night. I don't think anyone could believe what we were witnessing. Stone Cold was covered in blood and locked in the sharpshooter.
It remains for me not only an iconic moment but one of the best feuds in wrestling history. Often overlooked because of what happened next with both Hart and Austin, this match at Wrestlemania 13 was revolutionary.
For weeks and months, since the King of the Ring in 1996, the Austin phenomenon was growing. Crowds seemed to like his heel tendencies and by 1997 they were beginning to get louder.
The decision of WWE to turn Hart heel and to run with the Austin character was a calculated risk. Hart initially opposed the idea because he had always been a face. But he was persuaded to go for it.
What happened next changed wrestling like no other. Suddenly heels were faces, faces were heels.
No one had seen it coming and yet with one boot by Bret Hart, he crossed the divide and changed history. I do not think that Hart has ever got enough credit for his part in making the Stone Cold Revolution.
And as the next slide attests, it's not the only time he has acted for the sake of the wrestling business. Such was the feeling of admiration, that many loyal Hart fans now saw him as a heel.
Hart and Austin played it to perfection.
11: SummerSlam 1992: Bret Hart Vs. The British Bulldog
For many wrestling fans, this was one of the greatest matches of all time. And for British fans, it remains of their favourite moments ever because of the victory of their own British Bulldog.
In front of a capacity crowd of 80,355 fans, it is the second-biggest WWE event of all time. Some even suggest that it was the biggest, with Wrestlemania III's attendance having been inflated, but that remains unconfirmed.
The match itself is true reflection of wrestling skill and storytelling. In addition to Diana Hart at ringside, it also had boxing superstar Lennox Lewis, who accompanied Bulldog to the ring.
Regarded by many as the best SummerSlam match of all time, Bret Hart took the defeat and sent the local crowd home happy.
Credit must be given to Bret for losing the Intercontinental belt as he was entering the prime of his career. Bret has always done what was best for the business and knows the sport inside out.
The end of the match with Hart and Bulldog embracing and with Diana Hart in the ring, remains both a poignant and iconic moment.
10: The Birth of Wrestlemania
When it debuted in 1985, Wrestlemania was a sensation. By no means the largest crowd, but it was certainly one of the most star-studded, with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Liberace, Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper in attendance.
With the birth of a rock-and-wrestling theme, WWE was never the same again. Those competing were a who's who of early wrestling, including King Kong Bundy, Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat, Wendi Richter, Junkyard Dog, Nikolai Volkoff, Tito Santana and of course Hulk Hogan.
In addition to Muhammad Ali as a guest referee, it also had Mene Gene Okerland singing the national anthem! At least he got the words right, unlike a certain pop diva.
It was a moment in history that not only helped launch WWE and Hulkamania but one of the most important chapters in wrestling's relationship with Madison Square Garden.
It would return many times, and surely another Wrestlemania in New York's finest arena is long overdue.
9: The Return of the Grey Undertaker at Wrestlemania XIII
Another personal favourite, one which some might disagree with, but a favourite nonetheless. As a massive Undertaker fan, he has not always enjoyed success as the company's champion.
Things are different now, but in the beginning, he was rarely involved in the title picture. His brief reign as champion when he defeated Hulk Hogan in 1991 thanks to help from Ric Flair lasted only last six days.
But the title reign helped his push him as one of the most dominant heels at that time. And although he remained the focus of many PPVs in the coming months and years, he would not win another world title until Wrestlemania XIII, almost six years later.
And so billed as the Undertaker's lucky event, given the number 13, the Undertaker returned donning the grey tights of yesteryear. It was reminiscent of his first appearance in WWE and for many an emotional moment as the Deadman won his second championship.
It was finally recognition of his popularity and importance in WWE, and he would hold onto the belt until SummerSlam of that year.
8: The Arrival of Rocky Maivia at the 1996 Survivor Series
It remains a great privilege for any older fan that they are able to say that they were there when a phenomenon began. Billed as a third-generation superstar, the fresh-faced Dwayne Johnson debuted at the 1996 Survivor Series as Rocky Maivia. He would take his name from his father and grandfather.
What happened next needs little explanation, but he would go onto to become one of the most successful and popular superstars of all time.
It is interesting, though, to remember that in those first months, he was actually vilified by Stone Cold fans who disliked his clean-cut nature. This, however, only helped his career as Rocky turned heel and eventually turned into The Rock.
His Wrestlemania XV encounter with Stone Cold remains a favourite for many, but it was at this time that his abilities on the mic were being discovered.
Not unlike his adversary, he was actually winning support despite playing a heelish character. Recognising an opportunity, The Rock became a face, and arguably one of the biggest fan favourites of all time.
His return to the WWE ring this past week on Raw is sure to make the Road to Wrestlemania all the more interesting if you smell what this reporter is cooking.
7: The Marriage of Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth
We have had many wrestling marriages but few with the same iconic imagery or significance of that of Macho Man Randy Savage and his off-screen wife, Elizabeth Hulette. It is like many wrestling memories, though, because it is also tinged with sadness as Miss Elizabeth is no longer with us, having died in 2003.
But the wedding itself in 1991 remains for many a favourite moment as Savage and Elizabeth reunited in the ring and got married. In truth they had been married in real life for seven years, but it was nonetheless an emotional moment.
Miss Elizabeth was for many their favourite diva. And with the success of Randy Savage, the marriage was billed as "the match made in heaven."
As with all on-screen weddings, however, there were some incidents; as the pair opened their presents, one of which was a snake from Jake Roberts, Savage was jumped upon by Roberts and a young Undertaker.
6: Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart at Wrestlemania XII
As my first live Wrestlemania, this has to be one of my favourites. Not all will agree, but for me it had so many interesting moments and none more so than Shawn Michaels realising his dream.
It is remains an iconic scene of Shawn sitting in the ring clutching the belt, as the former champion Hart leaves.
According to Bret there, was actual a confrontation between the two and that is why he left rather than have any face-like handshake or embrace.
What this image represents is the entire career of Shawn Michaels. In one sense, a gifted athlete who was hugely popular. On the other side, the DX heel, a member of the Klique, in it for himself.
And what many will agree is that although selfishness may have reigned at the beginning, by the end of his career, Shawn had given a huge amount back, especially with his Wrestlemania matches.
That Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart rematch at Wrestlemania XIII would have been immense, but alas it was not to be.
Must also highlight the zip line entrance of Michaels, which in itself could have made this slideshow presentation—such an amazing start to the match.
5: Hell in a Cell, Mankind Vs. The Undertaker
As a younger fan at the time with no experience of ECW, this match was an eye-opener. Almost from the first second, it was pure excitement and pure carnage.
In the current climate of PG, however, I think as a match concept, it should cease to exist because it pales in comparison to former years.
But I would also argue that no match like that of the Undertaker and Mankind should ever be repeated again owing to the extreme danger involved. But on that night in 1998, Mick Foley as Mankind went to hell and back.
The first bump almost ended the match. The commentating of JR was first class and sold the initial injury. The second bump, some believing to have been an accident, simply left fans in disbelief.
Foley was actually knocked unconscious by it but recovered soon after. The addition of thumb tacks only made it more extreme. Foley would ultimately lose the match but not until he danced with the devil.
It was a watershed moment in WWE history and Foley was urged by many, including his wife and Vince McMahon, not to do anything as extreme as that again.
This might not feature in everyone's top 25, but as an example of sheer brutality and disbelief, it ranks up with many wrestling moments.
"Good God almighty! Good God almighty! They've killed him! As God as my witness, he is broken in half!"
4: Hall, Hogan and Nash: The Formation of the New World Order
Consider if you will poor Mean Gene Okerlund. It was heel wrestling at its finest. The reaction of the crowd was so intense that there could have been a riot. Instead they threw their rubbish.
And Mean Gene caught it squarely on the head. The arrival of Hall and Nash was iconic in itself but their declaration of a third secret member of the New World Order saw an explosion in WCW ratings.
It was the legdrop heard around the world, as Hulk Hogan turned heel on July 7, 1996. No one could have imagined such an eventuality and yet WCW did the unthinkable.
In many ways people should have seen it coming. Hogan was losing his fan power, he had become old news. A new generation of superstar was threatening to take his position. And yet in a masterstroke of story-telling, Hogan as a brand was reborn.
The NWO fired the first shots in the Monday Night War and the Attitude Era was born.
3: The Retirement of Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XXVI
One of the most poignant moments in wrestling history. I, for one, had predicted that Shawn Michaels would lose, but given their legendary encounter a year before, no one could have been certain of the result of the Undertaker and Michaels rematch.
Wrestlemania 25 was a largely forgettable affair excited only by a high-tempo Money in the Bank match and the squashing of JBL. But what we didn't know was that the WWE was saving its best for last.
The Wrestlemania XXV encounter needs no synopsis. For those new to wrestling, it is the epitome of excellence; few matches will ever get close to being of this quality.
Watch those sitting at ringside, you begin to experience exactly what it must have been like to have been there. The Undertaker would win that night but wrestling had won a much bigger victory.
When the book is closed on PG wrestling, this will surely stand as its greatest achievement. And so when the announcement came that a rematch was on, the wrestling world was fearful.
The declaration of a career-versus-streak match made it a truly incredible affair. Eighteen years of a streak was against a 25-year career; something had to give.
And the finale was a sign of absolute mutual respect between two wrestling greats. It is perhaps the most thunderous tombstone in history: a sign of respect from the Undertaker.
As Shawn Michaels picked himself up and walked away, who in the audience or sitting at home didn't suddenly feel over 20 years of history go through their minds. How many were fighting back the tears?
2: The Birth of Stone Cold Steve Austin
I was rooting for Jake Roberts that night. I had hoped the attack by Vader had not done much harm. But as a naive youngster, I didn't quite see the full picture.
There was something brewing that night; it was something incredible. Originally marked as the launch pad for Triple H, wrestling was turned on its head because of one promo and one man, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
He had enjoyed moments of success in WCW but it was only after his coronation as King of the Ring and the subsequent rise of Austin 3:16 that he found mega-stardom.
His brand of aggressive and brassy wrestling was an instant hit, and attacking legendary face Bret Hart a few months later instantly gave him credibility as a heel.
What happened next of course is wrestling history and saw a revolution not only in the relationship between Austin and Hart but also the relationship between faces and heels. They had changed wrestling in ways no one could have ever imagined.
It remains one of those hypothetical questions, what if Austin had not been given the break? What if the Madison Square Garden incident hadn't occurred and it was Triple H that had won the King of the Ring?
Most will say that Austin would have happened anyway, but it is scary to think how close wrestling might have been to never having Stone Cold or the Attitude Era.
It is even possible to suggest that had it not been for the rise of Stone Cold, WWE might have struggled to combat WCW and its NWO angle, to the extent that they could have gone out of business. After all, McMahon and his northern empire came very close to extinction.
1: Hulk Hogan Bodyslams Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III
There is perhaps no greater moment in wrestling history than when Hulk Hogan did the unthinkable and bodyslammed the 500-pound Andre the Giant.
It helped consolidate not only the position of wrestling's newest sensation, Hogan, but Wrestlemania itself. It was the ultimate triumph of good over evil, the demonstration of what happens when you take your vitamins and say your prayers.
Such a show of strength was seen before, with Andre and Hogan both bodyslamming Big John Studd. And it has been done since with Lex Luger bodyslamming Yokozuna and more recently Ezekiel Jackson slamming Big Show.
But that immortal scene on March 29, 1987, in front of a record crowd of 93,173, was wrestling at its best. As a pay-per-view, it made nearly $10 million and was seen by millions across America.
It made wrestling what it is today.
These are but a few of my favourite moments in wrestling history. They all try to emphasise the greatness of wrestling and why I enjoy, even after 15 years, watching this sport. There are many other moments that I enjoyed too but simply didn't have space for!
We as fans are all different. We enjoy different things. And that is what makes our community. I ask all those who have enjoyed this article to comment and mention some of their favourite moments. It is always interesting to see how different our views can be.
There are many great things to enjoy about wrestling. And while there are equally other memories, some not so great, some that are reflective of the tragedies in life, we enjoy our moments always in the knowledge that these sadder moments happened too.
These were but a few of my moments, and I hope you enjoyed reading, as much as I did writing. As we approach both the Elimination Chamber and of course the big one, Wrestlemania XXVII, I wonder if we will have any more iconic moments that will be on par with those listed in this presentation.