Professional wrestling, particularly in America, has a sordid past with shady characters, shameless self-promoters, and money-grubbing promoters. Sometimes, this results in some truly inane garbage. Other times, though, it results in some truly entertaining and even touching television.
Here, then, are ten of the greatest moments in professional wrestling history. With some debate, these moments were selected as the greatest of all time by the rec.sport.pro-wrestling newsgroup; commentary and additional information has been added by me.
10. Shane McMahon appears on WCW Monday Nitro while still airing on a Ted Turner-owned network.
In early 2001, WCW was purchased by the WWF in a landmark deal that unified the tops of professional wrestling in the United States. The Ted Turner-owned WCW organization was nearly out of time, since in the post-Time/Warner merger days WCW had fallen on hard times, and TNT, the network that ran WCW's flagship program Monday Nitro, had refused to renew Nitro.
So, with only one final live show remaining on their television agreement, Vince McMahon purchased WCW, so when longtime WCW fans tuned into the final edition of WCW Monday Nitro, they got a big surprise: Vince McMahon sitting there with a cat-eating grin on his face, delivering a message about how he had just filed paperwork to purchase WCW.
The best analogy for the surreality of the moment that I can think of is this: imagine the CBS Evening News opening with Tom Brokaw sitting there with a big smile on his face, announcing that he was now running CBS News.
But the weirdness wasn't over. Nitro, WCW's flagship program, and Raw, the WWF's flagship program, ran head-to-head on Monday nights, so Vince McMahon was appearing on the two primary competing wrestling programs live at the same time. At the end of the program, the two shows, which had bitterly competed for so long, actually began to air the same exact footage, in which Vince McMahon strolled into a WWF ring and announced to the world that WCW was his.
Not so fast! Vince's son Shane McMahon strolls out at the end of the final WCW Monday Nitro, stating that he had flown out to Nitro, stopped his father's purchase from going through... and purchased the organization himself! And thus closed one of the greatest wrestling programs in history, for good.
Of course, this high point was followed by a badly botched "WCW invasion" angle, in which lesser names like Hugh Morrus were expected to be seen as big threats to the WWF, but the angle kicked off with perhaps the most surreal moment of all time.
9. Mick Foley sacrifices his body for the entertainment of fans at King of the Ring 1998.
Mick Foley, through his various personas of Cactus Jack, Mankind, and Dude Love, had entertained fans for years by executing risky moves, from which he suffered countless broken bones, contusions, sprains, and the loss of an ear. In June 1998, though, Foley raised the bar for all time.
The Undertaker and Mankind (Foley's alter ego at the time) had been engaged in a two year long feud that was set up to be capped in a Hell in the Cell match at the 1998 King of the Ring pay per view. The event featured a cage around the ring that was enclosed on top; there were no disqualifications, either, so a winner must be declared.
Rather than entering the cage directly, both The Undertaker and Mick Foley climbed atop the cage (about sixteen feet off the ground) and began fighting up above. After several minutes of this, the fighters pushed closer to an edge near an announcer table and suddenly The Undertaker grabbed Foley and tossed him off of the cage. Foley went headfirst through an announcer table after falling about sixteen feet, breaking the table into several pieces.
But the match wasn't over.
After being carried off in a stretcher (since the match technically hadn't even begun yet), Mick Foley came back out to the ring amidst a reign of adoring cheers to continue the match. He managed to climb back up the cage where the brawl continued. After a few more minutes, The Undertaker once again picked up Foley, and once again tossed him down, expecting him to land on top of the cage, but suddenly the cage gave way and Foley fell headfirst about thirteen feet to the center of the ring.
But the match wasn't over.
Foley gets back up and the brawl continues. The crowd is going crazy by this point, so The Undertaker takes advantage of the crowd momentum to do something even more heinous. He gets under the ring, produces a steel chair, then smashes Foley in the head with it. After collapsing, The Undertaker picks Foley up and drops him head first onto the steel chair, after which Foley rolls over like a sack of potatoes.
But the match wasn't over.
After a bit, Foley gets back to his feet and the match finally gets underway. After some brawling, Foley gets underneath the ring and produces a bag of thumbtacks and proceeds to dump about two thousand thumbtacks out onto the ring surface. But The Undertaker takes advantage of this, picks Foley up, bodyslams him onto the tons of thumbtacks strewn about, and finally ends the match via pinfall.
This match is an integral part of the legend of Mick Foley and contributed to his growing popularity, which would peak in the coming year with an even more compelling moment.
8. Shawn Michaels kicks Marty Jannetty through a glass window in 1992, ending The Rockers as a tag team.
In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, The Rockers were a very popular tag team in the WWF. This was mostly due to the fact that both of the individual team members, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, had a great deal of charisma as well as the fact that the duo utilized a very high-flying style of wrestling that had not been widely seen in the United States to that point.
Cut forward to early 1992. After being out for a lengthy period due to injury, it was announced that The Rockers would be reuniting. Previous to this injury, there had been a touch of dissension between the members, as they had lost the tag team titles and argued a bit afterwards. However, it seemed very unlikely that the team would break up after the run of success they had experienced over the previous three years.
During an interview segment conducted by Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, the tag team reunited, shaking hands and embracing each other, then raising their arms in the air. But just as Jannetty turned away from Michaels, Shawn spun around and delivered a superkick to Jannetty's jaw, causing him to fly backwards through the air and through a glass window overlooking the interview. Shawn then delivered a scathing speech, in which he criticized Jannetty for letting him down.
This led into one of the best feuds of the early 1990s, as Michaels and Jannetty truly raised the bar for high-flying wrestling in the United States and would eventually lead to a career with multiple WWF championships for Shawn Michaels.
7. El Hijo del Santo turns heel, causing fans in Mexico City to riot for eight days in 1996.
This is a moment not widely known to American pro wrestling audiences, but if you can find a tape of this event, it is utterly compelling. On November 15, 1996, the son of Mexican wrestling legend El Hijo, who had wrestled for many years already as a hero of the people, was participating in a six-man tag team match. His opponent? Three villains who had earlier beaten the wheelchair-bound El Hijo Sr. to a bloody pulp, removing his mask and burning it. Near the end of the match, El Hijo del Santo turns on his teammates and join the individuals who had beaten his father, stating that his father's fame was actually HIS fame and that his father was "nothing." Women started crying, fights started in the audience, and a team of ridiculously angry Mexicans sporting broken beer bottles rush the ring. In the melee that ensued, roughly 50,000 Mexican wrestling fans began destroying the arena where the event was held, eventually spilling out into the streets. It took eight days for the riots to be fully contained.
6. Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat steal the spotlight at Wrestlemania III.
In mid-1986, Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat fought an extremely brutal match on Saturday Night's Main Event, which was aired nationwide in the United States on NBC. The result of the match was that Steamboat was out with injury for several months with a broken larynx.
Steamboat suddenly returned (to a nearly delirious crowd reaction) in early 1987, strolling out to ringside during a Intercontinental Title match between Randy Savage and a random scrub. The distraction almost cost Randy Savage the match, and he promised that he would deliver "the final blow" to Steamboat at Wrestlemania III that March.
The main event of the show was to be Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan, but midway through the card, the entire spotlight was stolen by Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat, who put on an amazing wrestling clinic. In those days, Savage was extremely agile, and this shows him at the utter top of his game against one of the greatest technical wrestlers to have ever lived. Both men would live out the remainder of their careers under the shadow of this amazing match, which had the crowd in utter bedlam and caused Ricky Steamboat's popularity to skyrocket to the point that Hulk Hogan saw him as a political threat and convinced Vince McMahon to get rid of him before Steamboat "destroyed the company."
Savage would go on to win multiple WCW and WWF world championships, and Steamboat would have a series of classic matches against Ric Flair in WCW, but this match truly stands the test of time as a shining example of both storytelling and excellent athletic ability in a wrestling match.
5. ECW reforms on Monday Night Raw.
From 1994 to 1997, the "underground" wrestling company ECW was producing a very violent (and quite popular) brand of professional wrestling involving stunt-filled matches and risk-taking wrestlers from all over the world. Unfortunately, due to some horrible management, in 2000, ECW went out of business, with many of its wrestlers and assets being absorbed by the WWF. This included the company's owner, Paul Heyman, as well as wrestlers Spike Dudley, Taz, Bubba Ray Dudley, D-Von Dudley, Tommy Dreamer, Rob Van Dam, Rhyno, and Justin Credible. Lance Storm and Mike Awesome went to WCW, which itself became a part of the WWF in 2001.
Cut forward to July 9, 2001. On the WWF's flagship program, Raw is War, a tag team match between Lance Storm and Mike Awesome (who were supposedly fighting on the WWF's behalf as part of the WCW Invasion storyline) vs. WWF stars Kane and Chris Jericho was interrupted by the all of the rest of the ECW wrestlers from the locker room slowly entered the ring. The ten ECW wrestlers then proceeded to utterly destroy the WWF duo. Paul Heyman, the former owner of WCW, was on commentary, and he proceeded to tell his co-commentator, Jim Ross (a long time WWF stalwart) to "kiss his ass" and then joined the rest of the ECW crew in the ring.
The arena went into utter bedlam at this point and it was unquestionably the high-water mark in the otherwise weak Invasion storyline of 2001; in fact, the moment would even be detracted from by the end of the show, as it was revealed that WCW and ECW were in cahoots to take down the WWF. However, for one brief shining moment, it was magic.
4. Ric Flair debuts in the WWF brandishing the NWA/WCW title belt in 1991.
Let's go back to 1991 for a moment. The biggest wrestling organization in the world is the WWF, with the NWA running a close second. By far, the biggest star of the NWA is Ric Flair; he's perhaps the second biggest name in wrestling next to Hulk Hogan.
And then suddenly, out of the blue, on an otherwise ordinary episode of the WWFs weekly wrestling show, Bobby Heenan starts ranting about how the "real champion" was going to appear soon on WWF TV, referring to Hogan as a pretender to the throne.
Most wrestling fans not in the know were absolutely abuzz with the news, speculating on what Bobby Heenan was talking about. A new wrestler? Bruno Sammartino back from the lip of oblivion? We all found out the next week.
In perhaps the most shocking moment in WWF history, Ric Flair walked out on an episode of WWF Superstars holding up the NWA championship belt as he was the current champion of the NWA. This is the equivalent of Tom Brokaw showing up on the CBS Evening News one evening and shaking hands with Dan Rather, folks.
Later, Flair was sued and could no longer use the NWA belt on television, but the sheer shock value of that one moment made the suit inconsequential. Flair had secured his place in wrestling history, and for that one moment, wrestling fans everywhere were shocked out of their drawers.
3. Hulk Hogan rejects his fans and joins the nWo at Bash at the Beach 1996.
Hulk Hogan had been a fan favorite for thirteen years. During that time, he had held the WWF title five times and the WCW title a few times. And there he was, set to bring in the tidal wave of popularity that was about to consume pro wrestling in America.
A month before, at the Great American Bash, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall (fresh from the WWF and claiming to be taking over WCW) had challenged the top three stars of WCW to a three-on-three tag match, but the pair didn't announce their partner. So, at Bash at the Beach, speculation was rampant as to who that third partner would be. The match began with just Nash and Hall taking on Randy Savage, Sting, and Lex Luger. Midway through the match, Luger was injured, and Nash and Hall took advantage, knocking out Sting and proceeding to beat Randy Savage senseless in the middle of the ring. Who would step in to save the good guys?
Just then, Hulk Hogan, the champion of the people for the previous thirteen years, ran to the ring with a chorus of cheers.... and proceeded to deliver a legdrop to Randy Savage. The Hulkster then gave an interview in which he derided the fans for not supporting him. The chorus of boos was deafening and garbage filled the ring, but it was a true electric moment that would give birth to the nWo storyline and the meteoric rise of WCW and pro wrestling as a whole in the late 1990s.
2. Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka leaps from the top of a steel cage onto Don Muraco in 1981.
This moment is legendary in several ways, but it is perhaps most intriguing when it is considered that it was not televised anywhere in the world. This moment occurred at a non-televised event in Madison Square Garden, but the word of mouth from it spread and eventually resulted in the huge wrestling boom of the 1980s.
Prior to this point, pro wrestling in America was mostly filled with large fellows who grappled in the middle of the ring, rarely leaving their feet. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a few individuals dared to try more, sometimes ascending to the third rope around the ring and leaping off onto their opponent as a spectacular finishing move.
Snuka took it to the next level.
While wrestling Don Muraco in a steel cage, Snuka climbed up to the top rope to deliver his famous "Superfly" finishing move, in which he leaped into the air and splashed on his opponent. But with the fans cheering, Snuka reached the top rope... and looked up.
He kept climbing up and up until he reached the top of the cage, turned around, and made a leap into legend, splashing down onto Muraco to the cheers of the crowd.
This moment became so famous by word of mouth, because it caused so many others to tune into professional wrestling to see what these formerly boring fellows were up to. And it inspired at least one legendary performer in a direct way.
Mick Foley was watching in the stands with Snuka made his leap.
1. Mick Foley wins his first world title in 1999 with the aid of Steve Austin.
This moment was the pinnacle of the modern era of professional wrestling, when everything good about the industry in terms of storytelling and in-ring performance paid off in one incredible moment.
At Survivor Series 1999, Mick Foley (in his Mankind persona) had been promised by Vince McMahon that he would indeed win the world title. Vince, the main villain in the WWF at the time, of course turned his back on the trusting Mankind and delivered the championship to The Rock. At this time, Foley's popularity with fans was utterly skyrocketing; he was portraying the role of the common man who made it big in the industry, with more than a heavy pinch of humor.
For the next month, Vince's cronies pretty much tormented Foley at every turn until the final Monday Night Raw of the year, in which Foley seemingly snapped. He kidnapped Vince's son Shane and said that he would break Shane's arm if Vince didn't live up to his promise of a shot at the World Title. Vince relented, and the main event was set: Mick Foley vs. The Rock for the WWF Championship.
But Foley wouldn't have it that easy. McMahon named his cronies Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco as ring announcer and timekeeper, respectively, and Vince named himself guest "ringside enforcer," which was pretty much a guarantee that Foley would be interfered with at every turn whenever the referee had his back turned. And that's just what happened. Finally, near the end of the match, the referee was knocked cold and Brisco, Patterson, Vince, and The Rock proceeded to start beating Mankind to a pulp.
Then one heard the sound of glass shattering, and the loudest noise I have ever heard in my life erupted from the crowd. The screaming was literally so loud that I had to cover my ears.
Steve Austin, the fan favorite for the last few years in the WWF, had been out several months with injury, but here he came in a full run to the ring. He delivered a shot to Vince and all of his cronies, smashed The Rock over the head, rolled Foley on top of The Rock, and then grabbed the referee's hand and slapped it to the mat three times. After fifteen years in the industry sacrificing his body night in and night out to entertain fans, Mick Foley finally won his world title.
The screaming at the arena went on for better than a half an hour. There was some sort of speech given by Foley afterwards, but I couldn't hear it. I was too busy being hugged and high-fived by everyone within fifty feet of me in a reign of shouts.
And that's what it's really all about. After all the cheesiness and self-promotion, there are those moments that somehow ring true and wrestling transcends itself to become something more.