CM Punk and the 25 Most Shocking Moments in Wrestling History
CM Punk and the WWE shocked us all Monday night by challenging everything we thought we knew about the current professional wrestling landscape. Punk’s brilliant shoot-style promo was instantly catapulted amongst the biggest surprise moments in wrestling history.
Punk’s tirade against the backstage politics that go on in WWE accomplished many things that made for a great moment. First, it made us wonder if what we were seeing was more than just “part of the show.” It brought both the Internet Wrestling Community and the WWE Universe to life by making everyone wonder what would happen next. Finally, it was simultaneously something we’d never seen before and something we never saw coming.
Time will tell if Monday night’s rant will obtain the ultimate hallmark of a truly great moment: changing the face of wrestling as we know it. In the meantime, let’s take a look back at 25 of the most astonishing and impactful moments in the history of the squared circle.
25. Edge Cashes in
The Money in the Bank concept was one of the most innovative ideas in recent memory, and WWE played it up for all it was worth by having inaugural winner Edge wait nine months before making good on his guaranteed title shot.
Fans had been wondering since WrestleMania XXI how and when the Rated R Superstar would use his MITB privilege. Many believed that “cashing in” would entail naming the time and place of the championship match, the way Rob Van Dam would do the next year.
The New Year’s Revolution pay-per-view “ended” the way many PPV’s before and after it had ended: with John Cena overcoming the odds to retain his WWE Championship. Cena endured a brutal and bloody Elimination Chamber match to keep the gold he had also won nine months prior.
But before going off the air, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon announced to a stunned audience and an exhausted Cena that the show was not over. Edge emerged, handed the briefcase to McMahon, and proceeded to win the title just a few minutes later from his battered opponent.
This moment gave birth to Edge being the “Ultimate Opportunist,” and set the precedent for how MITB winners would take advantage of weakened champions for years to come.
24. The Billionaire Princess Becomes HHH’s Queen
Growing up, I always rooted for the heels. As a 16-year-old wrestling fan in the late ‘90’s, I also had a little bit of crush on the sweet and innocent Stephanie McMahon. Considering those two facts, I’m unashamed to say this was my favorite moment of the entire Attitude Era.
Triple H had done everything in his power to make Vince McMahon’s life hell, even going so far as to drug his only daughter and marry her at a Las Vegas drive-thru wedding chapel.
This last straw led to a no-holds-barred match between Helmsley and Vince at Armageddon ’99, with the stipulation being that if Vince won, the marriage to Stephanie would be annulled.
Admittedly, a lot of people saw what was coming, but WWE did a great job playing out the string to the very last moment. The evil smirk on Stephanie’s face and embrace with the husband she was in cahoots with all along kicked off the “McMahon-Helmsley Era” both on-screen and off.
This storyline changed professional wrestling in a very real way, as Triple H and Stephanie are now married in real life and poised to take over WWE whenever Vince steps down.
23. The Kat Gets Skinned
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
For an otherwise awful pay-per-view (the WWE Championship match was Big Show vs. Big Bossman), Armageddon ’99 produced more than its fair share of shocking moments.
Sex, just like the violence and coarse language, was amped up during the Attitude Era, and the onus fell on pushing the envelope a little but further each time out. Divas competed in bra and panties matches, fought in pools filled with anything from mud to chocolate pudding, and typically dressed as scantily as possible. But in December, 1999, The Kat (a.k.a. Stacy Carter or Miss Kitty) literally “topped” them all.
Following the WWE women’s title match, which was fought in a swimming pool incidentally, the victorious Kat celebrated by removing her top and exposing her breasts not only to the arena, but to the live pay-per-view audience.
Though quickly covered and whisked away by Sgt. Slaughter and other WWE officials, the stunt pretty much pushed the envelope as far as it could go. At least until Edge and Lita’s live sex celebration six years later.
For obvious reasons, I can’t post a video of this moment. Apparently, The Kat is also a Slammy Award winner. Meow!
22. Big Show and Brock Bring Down the House
Gorilla Monsoon used to talk about the “irresistible force” meeting the “immovable object.”
One personification of that match took place on Smackdown when the World’s Largest Athlete met the future UFC Heavyweight Champion.
The end of the match saw Lesnar superplex Big Show from the top rope. For a brief second, roughly 800 combined pounds of humanity stood on the top rope before being hurled to the mat. The result was an impromptu end to the match as the entire ring collapsed around the two behemoths.
The only thing more explosive than the landing was the crowd’s stunned reaction, which only added to the lasting “impact” of this moment.
21. The Lex Express Rolls into Nitro
Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage had already famously jumped ship to the upstart WCW by the time the Atlanta outfit went live with its first Monday Nitro in 1995.
But WCW would shock the wrestling world again when WWE main eventer Lex Luger walked out during the show from Minnesota’s Mall of America.
Luger had an extensive history before jumping to WWE in 1993, and had come home just as the brand was beginning to take off. He became WCW champion for the second time (albeit for only five days) in 1997.
Though he now works for WWE behind the scenes, Luger never again appeared on WWE television.
20. Savage Is Snakebit
The feud between Randy Savage and Jake “The Snake” Roberts pitted two of the greatest workers and ring psychologists of all-time against one another, so you would expect great things to come out of it.
Macho Man was still “retired” as a result of his WrestleMania VII match with the Ultimate Warrior, but Jake’s constant goading and mind games finally got the better of the former world champion. On an episode of WWE Superstars, Savage left the broadcast area in which he was working as a color commentator to settle things once and for all with Roberts.
Unfortunately for Savage, Jake got the jump on him and tied him up in the ropes. Roberts then went to his trademark leather bag and produced a sinister-looking cobra, which he then induced to latch onto Savage’s arm as the crowd screamed in horror.
What made this moment so shocking was how extremely graphic and violent it was for its time. It may very well have also been the defining and lasting image of Jake Roberts’ WWE career.
19. The Mass Transit Incident
This was a situation in which just about everyone involved was in the wrong, and the result was the near death of an untrained, unprepared, 17-year-old wrestling fan.
A family emergency had caused Axl Rotten to miss an ECW house show in Revere, Massachusetts. As a replacement, Paul Heyman allowed Eric Kulas to step in for Rotten under the gimmick of “Mass Transit,” an overweight bus driver reminiscent of Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners.
Kulas and his father both lied to Heyman by telling the promoter that Kulas was 23 years old and had been trained by Killer Kowalski.
During the match, Kulas was essentially assaulted in the ring by The Original Gangstas, New Jack and Mustafa, and required immediate medical attention.
The footage speaks for itself.
As a result of the incident, ECW was sued, featured negatively on an episode of Inside Edition, and nearly had its first pay-per-view, Barely Legal, cancelled.
18. Cena’s Ready to Rumble
After a championship reign of more than a year, John Cena had to unceremoniously relinquish the belt in late 2007 after suffering a torn pectoral muscle.
The injury was supposed to keep Cena out for 6-8 months, and no one thought he would be part of the Royal Rumble pay-per-view after just three months on the shelf.
When Triple H emerged at No. 29, it looked like The Game would be heading to his second Rumble victory and a spot in the WrestleMania main event. But when the music hit at No. 30, the sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden erupted in a roar of combined shock and bewilderment.
Cena eliminated Trips to win the Rumble and secure perhaps the most surprising victory in the event’s storied history.
17. “It’s Me, Austin!”
In the spring of 1999, Mr. McMahon’s Corporation was fighting a two-front war. On one hand, McMahon and his corporate champion, The Rock, were doing battle with the boss’ old nemesis, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Meanwhile, Shane McMahon and the rest of the Corporate team were feuding with The Undertaker and his Ministry of Darkness.
Eventually, Shane performed a coup on his father, taking control of the Corporation, expelling Vince and The Rock, and merging with the Ministry to form the Corporate Ministry. Around this time, The Undertaker began speaking of a “greater power,” who was actually leading the mega-stable.
For weeks, the Greater Power was seen as a cloaked figure backstage, giving silent orders to the Corporate Ministry. On an episode of Raw, the Greater Power revealed himself to a shocked Steve Austin.
As fans speculated as to who could possibly be under the cloak (everyone from Mick Foley to Ted Dibiase were suspects), the plot thickened when the Greater Power came to the ring and revealed his identity to the world.
As Jim Ross put it, “Aww, sonuva bitch!” We all bought it hook, line and sinker.
16. January 4, 1999
The night that turned the tide in the Monday Night Wars for good.
WWE had taped Monday Night Raw for that week, and in an attempt to crush the competition, WCW’s Eric Bischoff ordered Nitro broadcaster Tony Schiavone to give away the Raw results.
One of the results that was relayed to the home audience was that Mankind (a.k.a. Mick Foley) had defeated The Rock to win his first WWE Championship. Foley, who had wrestled in WCW as Cactus Jack and never reached main event status, was derided by Schiavone, who scoffed, “That’ll put butts in the seats.”
The attempt to ruin the WWE’s show backfired on WCW, as fans across the country tuned in to see the underdog Foley finally come out on top. In addition, not only did Mankind win the gold, but the conclusion to the match was about as wild and exciting as you’ll ever see. As a result, many fans never switched back to WCW, neither that night or ever again.
Meanwhile, WCW served up one of the worst endings in history, tarnishing their world title in the process and rehashing an nWo storyline that was now more than a year past its expiration date.
Many people believe that this single night of television led to another shocking moment that will appear later on this list.
15. He’s Baaaaaa-Aaaaack
Much like the rest of the country, the world of pro wrestling looked drastically different in 2002 than it had just a couple years prior. WCW and ECW were dead, and WWE was the only game in town.
Following the lackluster “Invasion” storyline in 2001, things had settled down in WWE. Some former WCW/ECW stars like Booker T and Rob Van Dam were now firmly part of the WWE roster.
Following the final run of the nWo in early 2002, Vince McMahon announced that Raw and Smackdown would be hiring general managers to oversee the brands, a practice which continues to this day. Speculation quickly built over who would become the new GM of each show.
As you read in the last slide, Eric Bischoff spent half a decade trying to drive WWE out of business. While it was one thing to see wrestlers jumping ship from one organization to the other, no one thought that Bischoff would ever appear in a WWE ring. He was an on-screen talent second and a businessman first. And his business had been buried by the competition.
That’s why it was such a shock when McMahon named Bischoff as Raw GM, and the two formerly bitter rivals hugged on the Raw stage. But the truly incredible moment came when Bischoff interrupted Booker T’s backstage promo, marking his very first moment in front of a WWE camera.
Booker’s reaction, as always, is priceless when he sees his old boss.
14. “That’s the Warrior’s Music!!!”
WrestleMania VIII is one of the most underrated shows in the history of the prestigious event. It marked the last time Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage appeared on the same WrestleMania card, the last match of Jake Roberts’ WWE career, classic Intercontinental and WWE Championship matches, and the WrestleMania debut of Shawn Michaels’ “Heartbreak Kid” persona.
In what was being billed as Hogan’s retirement match, the main event pitted the Hulkster against the psychotic Sid Justice. The match ended in a disqualification when Justice’s manager, Harvey Whippleman, entered the ring.
Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, Papa Shango ran down to the ring to begin a two-on-one assault on Hogan. It looked as though Justice and Shango weren’t content to let Hulk retire; they were out to kill Hulkamania in the process.
As Justice went outside for a chair, a familiar drum crash and guitar riff sounded for the first time in nearly eight months. As the sellout crowd at the Hoosier Dome erupted, the Ultimate Warrior charged to the ring, cleaning house and saving the Hulkster.
The two celebrated in the ring as the pyro exploded throughout the stadium, capping one of the most exciting WrestleManias of all-time.
Clearly happier times for Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior.
13. Black and Yellow Beats Cena Black and Blue
The “we’re taking over” angle. The mega-stable angle. The “invasion” angle. They’ve all been done before. But they’d never been done with a bunch of unproven no-names. And they’d never been done in the sunny, kid-friendly atmosphere of the PG-Era WWE.
Wade Barrett outlasted seven other rookies in the first season of WWE NXT, earning himself a contract and guaranteed title shot in the process. When Barrett showed up on the Raw stage during then-WWE champion John Cena’s match against CM Punk, it appeared the Englishmen was just out to scout the competition.
Instead, Barrett and his fellow NXT rookies shook the WWE to its core (no pun intended) by surrounding the ring and proceeding to beat down anyone and anything that got in their way. Neither ring announcers, commentators nor the Straight Edge Society were spared in the carnage. Even the ring and ringside area were obliterated.
But the rookies saved most of their destruction for Cena himself. The champ was subjected to perhaps the worst beating of his career, capped by the now infamous Justin Gabriel 450 splash that punctuated every subsequent Nexus attack.
Although the WWE dropped the ball with this storyline, at the time is was completely fresh and unexpected, earning it a high spot on this list.
12. Extreme Championship Wrestling Is Born
The original ECW of the mid-late 1990’s was one of the most influential and revolutionary organizations in wrestling history.
Back in 1994, ECW was known as Eastern Championship Wrestling, and was affiliated with the National Wrestling Alliance. On August 27th, “The Franchise” Shane Douglas defeated 2 Cold Scorpio to become NWA champion, which from a purist’s point of view is the oldest and most prestigious title in American wrestling.
Douglas accepted the NWA belt and rattled off the names of wrestling greats who had held the title before him. However, rather than pay tribute to those legends, Douglas told them to kiss his ass before unceremoniously throwing the belt to the mat.
Douglas then picked up the ECW Championship belt and declared himself the new ECW champion. He stated that ECW had “set out to change the face of professional wrestling.”
Boy, was he right.
Shane Douglas and ECW ushered in a new era in wrestling by shunning nearly a century of history, changing the business forever.
11. A Change in Attitude
Things had never been better for the WWE heading into WrestleMania X-Seven in Houston. Just a week earlier, Vince McMahon had purchased WCW, snuffing out that last of WWE’s competition. In addition, the biggest show of the year featured the biggest main event as Stone Cold Steve Austin challenged The Rock for the WWE Championship.
The show is widely regarded as the greatest WrestleMania of them all, and it truly was a five-star spectacle from beginning to end.
The main event lived up to its billing, with Austin and The Rock going back and forth in an epic struggle for wrestling’s most coveted prize.
Towards the end of the match, Vince McMahon emerged and made his way down to the ring, eventually breaking up a three-count that would have given The Rock the victory. Still, no one knew what McMahon’s intentions truly were.
The Rock gave chase to McMahon, who lured the champion right into Austin’s waiting grasp. As Austin gained the upper hand, McMahon entered the ring with a chair and nailed The Rock as Austin held him. Fans watching could not believe what they were seeing. Why was McMahon, Austin’s sworn enemy for three years, helping the Rattlesnake? And why was Austin letting him?
Austin then proceeded to beat The Rock with the chair as McMahon cheered him on. Stone Cold then got an east three-count to become the new champion in front of an enthusiastic Texas crowd.
But the excitement of the fans soon turned to confusion and even anger as Austin and McMahon shook hands in the middle of the ring and even toasted over a beer. Austin had indeed turned to the dark side, and with this moment, the essence of the Attitude Era disappeared forever.
10. WWE Gets Punk’d
It’s hard to rank this one because it’s too early to tell where WWE and wrestling as a whole will go from here.
But for now, CM Punk’s tirade Monday night earns a spot in the top ten because it has the potential to turn WWE on its head. Even if it doesn’t, the Straight Edge Superstar said things on a live WWE microphone that not only had never been said before, but many did not believe could ever or would ever be said.
In one 10-second stretch, Punk calls Stephanie McMahon “idiotic,” Triple H a “doofus,” and suggests that the company would be better off if Vince McMahon was dead.
Punk brought up names like Hulk Hogan, Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman, thought to be taboo in WWE, and even mentioned other wrestling promotions, something that wasn’t even done during the Attitude Era.
The promo was so good and executed so perfectly that even though we now know it was a work, and even with next week’s Raw already taped, fans are still wondering how much might have been real and are now itching to see next week’s show.
Is Punk really gone for good? Is this the start of a new, edgier WWE? Only time will tell. But, at least for one night, WWE reminded us why we all watch Raw in the first place.
9. ECW Finds Religion
One of the greatest feuds in the original ECW was that between Raven and The Sandman.
The two warred over woman, family and the ECW Championship in some of the most violent and bloody matches ever seen.
But the rivalry went too far on October 26, 1996, when Raven and his henchmen put a crown of barbed wire on The Sandman’s head and tied him to a cross, which was then propped up at ringside. The imagery was meant to be a vulgar representation of Jesus’ Crucifixion, one of the most iconic and important moments and symbols in Christianity.
The stunt created nothing but repulsion and disdain as even the hardened ECW audience was offended by what they were witnessing. The reaction was so negative that Raven came out later in the show and apologized to the fans.
Kurt Angle, fresh off his gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics, was in attendance as a guest of Paul Heyman, and was considering breaking into pro wrestling with ECW. After seeing the Sandman crucifixion, Angle stormed out, threatening to sue Heyman if his image was ever broadcast on ECW television.
8. Koloff Beats Sammartino
Trust me, it only feels like John Cena has held the WWE Championship for eight straight years. But Bruno Sammartino actually did.
In the days before pay-per-views and weekly cable shows, wrestling was a once-in-a-while thing. Much like the house shows of today, a promotion would come through a city a couple of times a year to hold a card. Naturally, the promoters didn’t want to send their fans home unhappy, so the good guy would almost always prevail in the main event. This helps explain the atmosphere of the time and why Sammartino held the strap for so long.
After 2,803 consecutive days with Sammartino as champion, the unsuspecting fans at Madison Square Garden never imagined they would witness history on January 18, 1971.
Sammartino was being challenged for the gold by the “Russian Bear,” Ivan Koloff. A little less than eight minutes into the match, Koloff hit a knee drop off the top rope and scored a stunning one-two-three to become the new champion.
The crowd was at first too surprised to react. The Garden was reportedly so silent after the pinfall that Sammartino claims he thought his hearing had been damaged during the match. Though the referee raised Koloff’s hands, he was not presented the championship belt for fear of a riot.
Koloff would lose the strap to Pedro Morales just 21 days later, while Sammartino would regain the belt for another three and a half year reign starting in 1973.
7. Employee of the Month
The first shot in one the greatest feuds in wrestling history.
WWE has long lauded itself as a place where anything can happen. By the summer of 1997, the company was beginning to live up to that billing.
The fastest rising star at the time was Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was engaged in a bitter feud with Owen Hart over the Intercontinental Championship. Austin had beaten Hart for the title at SummerSlam, but a neck injury he suffered during the match forced Austin to give up the gold.
On the September 22 episode of Monday Night Raw, Austin came out while Hart was speaking in the ring and proceeded to attack him. New York police officers attempted to restrain Austin, but the Rattlesnake instead tried to fight the members of the NYPD.
Seeing that the situation was getting out of control, Vince McMahon left the broadcast table and got in the ring in an attempt to calm Austin down. By this time, it was common on-screen knowledge that McMahon was the owner of the company, though he had not yet developed his megalomaniacal Mr. McMahon character.
Austin stood toe-to-toe with his boss and let McMahon know where he could go what he could kiss, before delivering a stunner to the delight of the Madison Square Garden crowd.
McMahon crumpled to the mat and went into an apparent epileptic seizure as Austin was escorted from the building in handcuffs.
6. The Outsiders Invade
In the mid-1990’s, most mainstream wrestlers portrayed cartoon characters. They were stereotypes and had day jobs as garbage men and tax collectors, and rarely used their real names.
Two of the biggest stars in WWE during this time were former WWE champion Diesel and Intercontinental perennial Razor Ramon. However, in 1996 these two superstars became the latest to jump from the WWE roster to the up-and-coming WCW.
Back then, sites like the Bleacher Report and others didn’t exist to get to the bottom of every roster move and backstage dealing, so the majority of fans were unaware that the two would be popping up on Turner Network Television.
Razor showed up first, making his way through the crowd and entering the ring in the middle of a match to announce to the audience that he had arrived and that a war was coming. Diesel showed up soon after. The announcers called them by their real names, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, and they wore street clothes, giving the illusion that they were still under contract with WWE and had invaded WCW.
The shock to wrestling fans came when WCW acknowledged that these were WWE wrestlers and used their real names rather their stage names at a time when doing so was highly unusual, thus blurring the line between storyline and reality.
At Bash at the Beach ’96, the pair confirmed they no longer worked for WWE, but promised the debut of a “third man,” who would join them for their debut match later in the night.
Of course, more on that a little later.
5. The Demise of WCW
For fans who didn’t know beforehand, this was the ultimate real-life shocking moment. For fans that had been through the Monday Night Wars regardless, this was a day many never thought would arrive.
Since early 1999, WWE had taken the lead in the ratings battle with WCW, as the Turner-owned product began to crumble from within. Poor booking, stifling backstage politics, and the withdrawal of support from the newly formed ownership group AOL-Time Warner spelled curtains for the once promising company. Less than five years after becoming the No. 1 wrestling promotion in the country, WCW was out of business.
Not only did the company go under, but it was purchased by the competition, Vince McMahon. On March 26, 2001, just six days before the landmark WrestleMania X-Seven event, McMahon appeared simultaneously on both Spike TV (then TNN) and TNT to announce the purchase.
Although the subsequent storyline involving Shane McMahon and the Invasion was the stuff of fantasy, the end of the Monday Night Wars was very real.
Looking back, despite how terrible WCW had become, this was still a sad day for wrestling.
4. Foley Takes Flight
Foley may not actually be God, but they must be pretty tight.
One of the most iconic moments of the Attitude Era, Mankind being thrown from the top of the cell through the announce table will be remembered for as long as there are wrestling fans.
Wrestlers for the past 13 years have tried to recreate the shock value, impact, and sheer incredibleness of this single spot, but very few have ever come close. No one could take a bump quite like Foley, and no one looked more like he’d been hit by a train after taking it. A large part of Foley’s appeal was that you rooted for him to take shots like this. Then, you rooted for him to get back up.
After this fall, the match, which officially hadn’t even started yet, looked like it was already over. Medical officials checked on Mankind and loaded him onto a stretcher. The length of the delay, combined with Jim Ross’ commentary, not to mention the fall itself, made you believe that Foley truly was injured. After that, he HAD to be!
Amazingly, Foley got off the stretcher halfway up the aisle and went back up the cell after The Undertaker. This led to yet another sick bump (the one that actually hurt Foley more), as he was chokeslammed through the cell roof to the ring below while a chair fell on his head for good measure.
This match will go down as one of the most memorable and violent in WWE history, but the moment when you realized Foley was actually going to get thrown off the top of the cell stands out as one of the most shocking of all-time.
3. The Death of Owen Hart
Sadly, when it comes to shocking moments in wrestling, one could make an entire list of people who left us before their time, with Owen and Chris Benoit taking the top spots.
But since this tragic accident actually took place in the ring during a live WWE event (Over the Edge 1999), I’ve put it on this list.
When it comes to pro wrestling, you always assume that what you’re seeing isn’t real. In this case, Jim Ross helped assure us that indeed it was all too real, and not part of the show.
I’ll never forget when JR announced later in the night that Owen had passed away. I don’t fault WWE for going on with the show. If I felt numb and dumbstruck watching at home; just imagine how the people in the back who were so close to him felt.
Rather than posting a terrible clip of Ross announcing Owen’s death or describing what happened from ringside, I’ve chosen to post this clip from the next night on Raw when WWE took a break from the Attitude Era to pay tribute to one of the best to ever lace up a pair of boots.
It never fails to bring tears to my eyes when Jim Ross, fighting his own tears, so eloquently says at the end of the show, “All I can say about Owen Hart is I hope that I can be as good a man as him, so that I can see him again, someday.”
2. The Third Man
Many moments have altered the landscape of professional wrestling over the years, but nothing changed the game quite like this.
Hulk Hogan was the most beloved figure in professional wrestling history. His appeal crossed over from professional wrestling into mainstream pop culture. He starred in movies, appeared on talk shows, endorsed products, all the while maintaining an All-American hero persona who encouraged kids to say their prayers and take their vitamins.
In 1994, Hogan brought legitimacy to WCW by joining the company and immediately became its headline attraction and world champion. For the next two years, he continued to play the hero, and it was thought to be inconceivable that he would ever turn heel.
But at Bash at the Beach ’96, Hogan and WCW shocked everyone when he was revealed as Hall and Nash’s mystery partner. With one legdrop to his former best friend, Randy Savage, and one killer promo after the fact, more than a decade of innocence was wiped away and the nWo was born.
Supposedly, no one aside from Eric Bischoff and the wrestlers involved knew the turn was coming. The announcers were left in the dark so as to make their reactions more authentic. Indeed, the repulsion spewed by Tony Schiavone and Mean Gene Okerlund, combined with the disgust of the fans who pelted the ring with trash, helped spurn the wave of hatred that would fall on Hogan.
Soon referring to himself as “Hollywood” rather than Hulk, Hogan proved to be just as good at portraying the devious heel as he was at playing the incorruptible face. The nWo storyline catapulted WCW to the top of the ratings for 86 consecutive weeks.
WWE was forced to change its programming in order to compete with WCW, thus giving birth to the Attitude Era.
Never before or since in the history of pro wrestling has one heel turn had such an extreme and lasting impact on the business.
1. The Montreal Screwjob
Wrestling was never realer than it was November 9, 1997.
Bret Hart was the WWE champion. He was leaving for WCW following his title defense at the Survivor Series in Montreal, Quebec.
Vince McMahon wanted Bret to drop the title cleanly to Shawn Michaels on the show, fearing in part that Bret would take the title with him to WCW and disgrace it at the height of the Monday Night Wars.
Hart had other ideas. He didn’t like the idea of losing in his home country, where he would be cheered despite coming into the match as a heel, and he didn’t like the idea of losing his final WWE match to Shawn Michaels, a man with whom he had great personal animosity with backstage.
Before the match, Hart and McMahon discussed what they could do to make both sides happy. McMahon agreed to the idea of a disqualification, keeping the belt on Hart so he could relinquish it the next night on Raw. That’s what McMahon verbally agreed to, but in actuality he had other ideas.
In the aftermath of what would come to be known as the Montreal Screwjob, the Mr. McMahon character was born and became the top heel in WWE. Shawn Michaels held the title until WrestleMania XIV, where he was defeated by Stone Cold Steve Austin. Many fans debate whether it was this match or the one in Montreal five months earlier that truly marked the beginning of WWE’s Attitude Era.
Time has healed the wounds between Hart, McMahon and Michaels. But never in wrestling history has the line between fake and real been so blurred as it was that night, namely because there was no line. What fans saw was the real deal.
For that reason, the Montreal Screwjob goes down as the most shocking moment in wrestling history.