WWE's Forgotten Incredible Moments from the Last 20 Years
Since 2000, WWE has been made up of epic returns, heartbreaking retirements, unforgettable encounters and WrestleMania-heavy top moments.
Over the course of two decades, though, there are moments that are destined to fly under the radar, forgotten by the masses despite extraordinary individual performances or historically significant happenings.
Even industry icons such as John Cena, Chris Jericho, CM Punk and Batista have been a part of such moments, with their efforts overshadowed by their other, more prominent and recognizable contributions to WWE television.
Relive these 10 forgotten-yet-incredible moments from the past 20 years, courtesy of sports entertainment's greatest empire.
10. Batista Quits! (Raw, May 24, 2010)
If ever there were a moment in WWE history in which Batista showcased the entertainment value that would make him one of the most fun and engaging action heroes in cinema today, it was the final appearance of his first run with the company.
The May 24, 2010, episode of Raw followed the Over the Limit pay-per-view in which The Animal lost an "I Quit" match to John Cena. In a wheelchair, his body bandaged following the assault he endured at the hands of his fellow Ruthless Aggression Era icon, he whined about having to compete against Randy Orton to the point that general manager Bret Hart awarded the match to The Viper by forfeit.
Enraged, Batista quit WWE in one of the most entertaining temper tantrums in company history.
Truth be told, Batista's entire heel turn from that era is underrated. The egotistic, full-of-himself Superstar stole many a promo by touting how much the company needed him. His self-value through the roof, he became the insufferably vain heel around whom top programs were built.
He was great and left fans wanting more as he stepped away from the squared circle, partially because of creative frustrations and partially to pursue other passions.
9. A Lethal Dose of Poison (SmackDown, January 24, 2002)
When Ric Flair joined Vince McMahon as co-owner of WWE in November 2001, it was only a matter of time before the Chairman of the Board's ego got in the way. By January 24, 2002, fresh off a humiliating defeat at the hands of The Nature Boy at the Royal Rumble, McMahon had snapped and was willing to do anything necessary to keep Flair from having any sort of influence over his company.
Including injecting it with a "lethal dose of poison."
On that night's episode of SmackDown, an over-the-top McMahon cut a scathing promo in which he vowed never to let Flair take credit for what he had built and vowed to tear it down, brick by brick.
Uttering the famous "poison" line, he spun around in his chair to reveal the letters "NWO," officially announcing the return of the group to the pro wrestling landscape.
The effectiveness of the promo was not in the surprise ending. Nor was it that it led to some magical return of the NWO. No, it was so damn good because it was evil Vince at his ridiculous best.
He was superb as the maniacal owner pushed to the brink. He was a spoiled brat who didn't want to share, instead deciding to take his toys home and bash them to smithereens instead. It was outstanding work by a master craftsman and a promo that isn't talked about enough when discussing how great that particular heel character was at its peak.
8. Shawn Michaels vs. Montreal (Raw, August 15, 2005)
When Hulk Hogan suggested Shawn Michaels dig deep within himself and find the HBK of 1997, he awakened a beast that manifested itself on the August 15, 2005, episode of Raw, live from Montreal.
In front of fans all too familiar with his role in the legendary Montreal Screwjob that preceded Bret "Hitman" Hart's 13-year absence from WWE, Michaels cut a brilliant heel promo that had fans ready to jump the guardrail. Gleefully taunting the crowd, a grin painting his face, he talked crap on both Hart and Hogan, tearing down the childhood heroes of so many in attendance.
By the time Hart's music played and the crowd erupted, with everyone certain The Showstopper was about to get his comeuppance. Until he didn't.
There was no Hart to save the day. Instead, it was another ploy by Michaels to build up the fans' excitement, only to burst the bubble and leave them somehow more furious at the Hall of Famer.
It was an expert display of crowd manipulation by one of the best to ever lace a pair of boots. It was also a classic promo that has somehow been lost to the annals of time, seemingly for no other reason than his abbreviated run as a heel.
Furthermore, it helped add a tremendous amount of heat to Michaels' character ahead of a match WWE was heavily relying on to sell its SummerSlam pay-per-view.
7. Randy Orton: Legend Killer (Raw, September 15, 2003)
There are many who remember the rivalry between Randy Orton and Mick Foley that put the third-generation star on the map and catapulted him to the forefront of the industry. They remember him calling himself The Legend Killer and downing many an iconic figure with his vaunted RKO finisher, but does anyone talk about the exact moment when he coined the nickname and gave fans a taste of the depths to which he would stoop as a hated villain?
The September 15, 2003, episode of Raw saw Orton interrupt a beatdown of Mae Young and The Fabulous Moolah by Victoria. He announced to the WWE Universe that it was Moolah's birthday and justifiably called her a legend. Then, he introduced himself as "Randy Orton: Legend Killer" before dropping her with an RKO.
It was another brazen attack by a young star looking to make his name and a key moment in Orton's early development. Without it, and the moment he gave himself a moniker he still leans on to this day, who knows how long it may have taken Orton to achieve all that he did so early in his career.
6. Mark Henry's 'Retirement' (Raw, June 17, 2013)
Every so often, fans and wrestlers alike are faced with the emotional trauma of a premature retirement. A beloved Superstar stands before the WWE Universe and bares their soul before announcing the end of their career as an in-ring performer.
The June 17, 2013, episode of Raw brought with it one such moment.
Or so we thought.
A tearful Mark Henry relived his career, clearly heartbroken over the decision he had come to.
The moment was interrupted by then-WWE champion John Cena, who wanted to show his respect to the former Olympian. What started as a heartwarming moment ended with Henry shocking the world by pulling Cena into his arms and slamming him to the mat, an emphatic announcement of his intention to challenge for the top prize in the industry.
The shock of the moment, Henry's convincing performance and the unforeseeable outcome of the segment helped establish it as one of the best angles of the past decade—even as fans forget just how effective it was in the moment.
5. CM Punk Sings Happy Birthday to Aalyah (SmackDown, May 13, 2010)
Some of the greatest work of CM Punk's career came during his run as the leader of the Straight Edge Society. Fashioning himself as a Straight Edge Savior, he denounced lifestyles involving drugs and alcohol and took on followers such as Luke Gallows and Joseph Mercury.
He even had his own personal Mary Magdalene in the form of Serena Deeb.
The correlation to Biblical figures was on purpose, as he revealed in the 2013 WWE Home Video release CM Punk: Best in the World. As a faction, they terrorized SmackDown and made life a living hell for anyone that crossed them, most notably Rey Mysterio.
The rivalry between Punk and Mysterio was one of the best in WWE through the spring of 2010, and on the May 13, 2010, episode of SmackDown, it took on a new personal edge when Punk interrupted a promo by the masked luchador.
Surrounded by his family, Mysterio could only watch as Punk verbally ran him down and then put an exclamation point on the promo by creepily singing "Happy Birthday" to Rey's daughter, Aalyah.
The depths Punk sunk to in order to get a mental edge over Mysterio were despicable, but the angle is memorable to those who were fans at the time. It was yet another display of his willingness to flirt with the line between good and bad taste, which he was not afraid of crossing from time to time.
The angle added heat to the feud and helped set up a fantastic match at that year's Over the Limit pay-per-view event, making it both effective and one of the better hidden gems of the past two decades.
4. 'What's Your Name, Kid?' (SmackDown, June 27, 2002)
The June 27, 2002, episode of SmackDown will go down in history as the introduction of John Cena to the WWE Universe. Confronting Kurt Angle, touting "ruthless aggression" as the reason for doing so and then nearly defeating the Olympic gold medalist was as superb a first impression as a newcomer could possibly make.
Often forgotten, though, is the post-match interaction with another all-timer: then-WWE champion The Undertaker.
After some kind words from the likes of Ron Simmons, Billy Kidman and Rikishi, Cena found himself face-to-face with The American Badass. "What's your name, kid?" he asked, playing too cool for school. He knew but wanted to hear it from the man himself.
Cena introduced himself, again, and watched as Undertaker extended his hand. The Deadman congratulated him and shook his hand, a sign of respect and an acknowledgment of his bright future, which helped Cena earn further credibility.
The match and promo with Angle are among the most frequently aired moments in Cena's long and illustrious career, but the sign of approval from Undertaker was just as important, if not more so.
3. A Show-Stealing Cash-In (Raw, April 8, 2013)
In theory alone, the Money in the Bank cash-in is meant to be sporadic, surprising and dramatic.
Otherwise, it would be any other championship opportunity.
Since its inception, there have been numerous unforgettable cash-ins that have catapulted the likes of Edge, CM Punk, Seth Rollins and, Daniel Bryan to main event superstardom. While each has left the WWE Universe buzzing, none quite brought with it the emotional roller-coaster that Dolph Ziggler's did on the April 8, 2013, episode of Raw.
Capitalizing on an injured Alberto Del Rio, Ziggler appeared to be just moments away from his much-anticipated World Heavyweight Championship victory. Except he underestimated the resilience of the champion.
Del Rio survived Ziggler's early onslaught and momentarily had fans thinking he may do the unthinkable and retain his title courtesy of his vaunted armbar submission.
Ziggler, feeling his title aspirations slipping away, twisted at Del Rio's injured ankle, freeing himself. From there, he delivered the Zig-Zag and earned the win that had eluded him to that point.
The fans in East Rutherford, New Jersey, erupted, appreciating what the moment meant to Ziggler and expressing their joy that one of the company's workhorses had finally been given the opportunity to have a run at the top of the company.
The emotions of Big E and AJ Lee, his on-screen cohorts, made the moment that much more special. While his run did not quite go according to plan because of a concussion, Ziggler will forever have that one moment in time when he lived the childhood dream of so many pro wrestlers.
2. Chris Jericho's Unforgettable Unforgiven (September 7, 2008)
There was no better character or performer in 2008 than Chris Jericho.
He was on a roll unlike any he had ever enjoyed before, and a great deal of that could be attributed to his willingness to move away from the Y2J persona and become a more dangerous, deliberate and serious character.
His feud with Shawn Michaels that year was the stuff of legend, one of the best ever produced by WWE and its Superstars. After tormenting HBK, nearly ending his career and accidentally striking his wife over the summer months, it was time for Jericho to get his comeuppance.
At Unforgiven, Jericho took a massive ass-kicking at the hands of an appropriately unforgiving Michaels. He was bloodied, bruised and by the end of the match, KO'd.
But his story on September 7, 2008, does not end with his embarrassing beatdown.
Like all great villains, he recovered and got one over on his foe.
Filling in for an injured CM Punk, Jericho entered the World Heavyweight Championship Scramble match and in the closing seconds, won the title out from under Batista. As the show went off the air, the despicable, conniving, cunning Jericho had managed to shake off the pain and suffering dealt him earlier in the evening and emerge with a smirk on his face and championship gold in his hands.
Unforgiven may not have been a great pay-per-view, but it was a phenomenal bit of storytelling that stands out as one of Jericho's greatest single-night performances.
1. The Old Stone Cold Whoops That Alliance Ass (Raw, July 16, 2001)
Following his heel turn at WrestleMania X-Seven, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin became a shell of his former self. Comedic, soft and totally dependent on Vince McMahon's affection, he was as far removed from the hell-raising antihero fans had fallen in love with at the height of the Attitude Era.
When WCW and ECW formed the seemingly insurmountable Alliance, McMahon recognized the importance of having "the old Stone Cold" back for the impending war.
After pleading and begging with Austin to find that Stone Cold within himself on the July 12 episode of SmackDown, McMahon and the rest of the WWE Universe waited with bated breath, wondering whether The Texas Rattlesnake would save the day.
On the July 16 episode of Raw, they got their answer.
After much soul-searching in a local bar, Austin arrived at the arena and unleashed a Costco-sized can of whoop-ass on The Alliance. He dropped everyone in his vicinity before standing tall, once against the company's toughest S.O.B.
Of course, he would go on to betray McMahon and WWE six days later at the Invasion pay-per-view, but at that particular moment in time, the fans erupted with overwhelming joy at the prospect of the Austin they had so unwaveringly loved rising to the occasion one more time.