“Feel this moment for the rest of your life!” -Paul Heyman
Wrestling gets a lot of flak for being predetermined; hence, wrestling isn’t considered a real sport by the majority of the people in the world. That is a complete shame, as wrestling, like most other sports, provides the world with true “moments” that live forever.
Hogan slamming Andre. Austin stuns McMahon at Madison Square Garden. Brock Lesnar’s WWE return.
I could go on and on with the moments that any mildly educated wrestling fan remembers. That is not my goal with this article.
I dug into the bowels of wrestling history and found 10 moments that, at the moment, could be considered unforgettable for the performers involved. They were meant to:
A) launch a career into the stratosphere
B) start a groundbreaking storyline
or C) show that the audience has accepted said wrestler forever as someone they are invested in
Sadly, none of these moments panned out, but the crowd reactions that surrounded these deserve to be recognized and remembered. After all, the audiences during these events thought they were a part of history.
SummerSlam 1991: Virgil wins the Million Dollar Championship
After over three years of servitude, Virgil finally grew a backbone (thanks in large part to encouragement from Roddy Piper) and split from Ted DiBiase at the Royal Rumble. After falling just short of claiming DiBiase’s prized Million Dollar Championship at WrestleMania VII, Virgil got a second chance at SummerSlam…in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden.
Now, when you think about Virgil today, you generally think of a sad man sitting underneath a giant banner, acquiring no attention for autographs. He is a walking punchline. In 1991, Virgil…gasp…had potential.
The crowd loved him and DiBiase made him look like, pun very intended, a million bucks. The emotion and drama behind the closing minutes of this match are palpable. When Virgil finally thwarts his former boss and takes his coveted belt, the crowd goes nuts and Virgil soaks in the moment by doing a truly awful front flip and celebrating like it was just the first time out of many.
It would be the first of first, naturally. But, at that moment…IT LOOKED LIKE VIRGIL MIGHT BE A FUTURE SUPERSTAR FOR QUITE SOME TIME.
1995: Men on a Mission turns heel
There were many outlandish characters in the WWF in 1995, but perhaps nobody had the carefree attitude, positive message and colorful personalities like Men on a Mission. Mabel, Mo and Oscar were so energetic and crowd-pleasing, but they hadn’t been overly successful. After losing their tempers in a loss to the WWF Tag Champs, the Smokin’ Gunns, M.O.M responded after a squash match to Billy and Bart by expressing their deepest regrets and hopes of a rematch. Everything looked hunky dory in babyface land until Mabel and Mo began to mercilessly attack the cowboys.
While the crowd is already booing, albeit mildly, this angle kicked into high gear when Oscar, the mild-mannered rapping manager of M.O.M, disapproved of what was going on and was swiftly pulverized by Mabel and Mo.
Now, you can beat up these Wrangler-wearing dolts and we won’t be overly outraged. Mess with our innocent MC Hammer-lite? Now you’ve done it, Mabel and Mo!
The crowd vehemently booed the newly turned team and, from there, Mabel was crowned King of the Ring and received a WWF Title match at SummerSlam. This flopped on a Crystal Pepsi level and Mabel went through innumerable gimmick changes afterwards and Mo was probably your waiter at Ruby Tuesday’s sometime recently.
In retrospect, it looks elementary that this was the outcome. However, at that moment…MEN ON A MISSION LOOKED LIKE THE WWF’S NEXT GREAT HEEL ACT.
1995: HOROWITZ WINS! HOROWITZ WINS!
Jobbers in the 1980s and 1990s were almost as well known as the superstars that pinned their shoulders to the mat. In the midst of the Duane Gills and Iron Mike Sharpes, one name always stood out as the worst of the worst. That man was Barry Horowitz. So, when the hapless jabroni stepped into the ring with the newly debuted Skip (accompanied by everyone’s first wrestling crush, Sunny) in 1995, everyone knew the result. Skip toyed with Horowitz and had everything in control, so much so that he proceeded to do push-ups. It was then that Horowitz cradled Skip and earned his first televised victory in the WWF.
For lack of a better term, the crowd went apeshit. No one saw it coming because jobbers in 1995 never won…especially Barry Horowitz. A neat little storyline followed that saw Horowitz earn another win at SummerSlam, receive ridiculous merchandise and entrance music that you can hear at any Bar Mitzvah or Jewish wedding.
The joy was short-lived and Horowitz went back to J.O.B Squad status by the middle of 1996, but he provided such hope for every jobber working. Plus, for a brief moment, the audience wouldn’t rush to the concession stands during squash matches because one never knew what would happen anymore.
These days, squash match outcomes are, once again, no-brainers. But at that moment in 1995…THE AUDIENCE BELIEVED THAT A MIRACLE COULD HAPPEN WITH ANY JOBBER AND THEY WOULD SUPPORT THEM FULLY.
1996: Ahmed Johnson becomes Number One Contender for the WWF Title
A lot was quietly changing in the WWF in 1996. The undertones of the Attitude Era were beginning with Stone Cold’s speech, Jim Ross’ shoot on Vince McMahon and so much more. One thing was for certain: Shawn Michaels was the number one man in the company. With Bret Hart potentially leaving for WCW, who was going to be number two?
In August 1996, one battle royal looked to answer that question. With the winner receiving a WWF Title shot two weeks later, it seemed academic that a heel would win to challenge HBK. When the final three consisted of Ahmed Johnson, Stone Cold (who was still lacking complete support from behind the scenes and the crowd) and Goldust, the answer seemed obvious. However, Ahmed Johnson rose above the odds, the kayfabe notions (why would Ahmed be booked to fight his best friend?) and legitimate injuries (Johnson was battling real kidney problems which were being used in his feud with Faarooq) to win the battle royal in miraculous fashion.
First of all, it still boggles my mind that Ahmed didn’t completely botch that Spiderman routine at the end of the battle royal. Second of all, I think it is that moment that puts Ahmed over the top in this case. He was physically gifted, inspirational and overall a great guy. Why not put him up against HBK for the title and see how the crowd responds? After all, most people assumed Ahmed Johnson would wind up with the title eventually.
The story from there is kind of tragic. Ahmed Johnson’s injury was too much and he missed the next four months of action. He returned and lost momentum every week seemingly as he fought Faarooq’s Nation until…he stupidly turned heel…then got hurt again and again and again. His career never had the chance to bloat to the level that Ahmed himself did in WCW as Big T.
Ahmed became another “Next Big Thing” to add to an alarmingly growing list. At this moment, though…AHMED JOHNSON SEEMED DESTINED TO BE THE WWF’S NUMBER TWO STAR AND THE FIRST BLACK WWF CHAMPION.
1999: The Stooges beat the Mean Street Posse
The Attitude Era could do no wrong. So, in 1999, when two guys who were simply in the company because they were friends with Shane McMahon fought two retired wrestlers that weren’t wholly recognizable to a modern audience, one shouldn’t be surprised when the crowd ate the entire story up and the rating for the show was the highest in Raw history.
Think about that. In the midst of the Attitude Era, Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco were over to an extent that made it seem like they were up-and-coming babyfaces and Rodney and Pete Gas were vile heels that would make crowds boo for years to come.
I am not even going to waste anymore words with this one. At that moment…THE ATTITUDE ERA COULD DO NO WRONG AND THE WWF WOULD BE CREATIVELY BRILLIANT FOR DECADES TO COME.
Royal Rumble 2000: Too Cool breaks it down
Comedy acts in wrestling rarely stick around. Moreover, comedy acts had trouble gaining acceptance with the hardcore wrestling fan. Perhaps that is why Rikishi was the perfect storm. Most fans recognized him as a former Headshrinker and “man who wanted to make a difference” who finally received a character he could sink his teeth into. Too Cool were goofy guys that made the audience laugh.
Put the two together and it strangely fit. What was the shelf life, though? At the Royal Rumble in 2000, it seemed endless. MSG was one of the strictest crowds in the world and accepted this act like it was Hogan beating the Iron Sheik all over again. Seriously, look at that crowd. There is hardly anyone not clapping their hearts out.
For most of 2000, that case stuck true as any babyface dancing with Rikishi and Too Cool provided one of the best moments of each show. Then…Rikishi did it for The Rock. A sudden heel turn that was followed up with a character rehash less than one year later killed the momentum and goodwill Too Cool had with the crowd. In 2004 in the same building at WrestleMania XX, Rikishi and Scotty 2 Hotty danced and elicited the response of a silent fart.
Comedy acts are hard pressed to stay fresh. At this moment…TOO COOL LOOKED LIKE A COMEDY ACT THAT TRANSCEDED THE GIMMICK AND APPEARED TO CHANGE THE PERCEPTION THAT FUNNY COULDN’T BE A THREAT
2001: Lance Storm starts the Invasion
Everyone knew it was coming at some point. WCW was owned by the WWF. We would have to see the two go up against one another eventually. No one thought it was going to happen two months after the sale. That is exactly what happened in 2001 when Lance Storm interfered in a meaningless Saturn/Terri versus Trish/Blackman match. We would later see him celebrating with Shane McMahon outside and the first show was fired. The crowd couldn’t be any more excited.
Some things to think about:
- It was LANCE STORM kicking off the Invasion. Storm wasn’t overly popular or well-known on his own. Maybe even more importantly, Storm wrestled for ECW longer than WCW. Why Lance Storm? No one really cared.
- Shane McMahon was so over at the time that WCW seemed to be more popular with the WWF crowd than the WWF itself. That would be remedied soon afterwards.
- This moment wasn’t isolated. Listen to the pop HUGH MORRUS gets when he interferes one week later. People were ready for WCW.
Leave it to Buff Bagwell, poor creative, multiple heel and face turns, and a lack of vision to ruin the single easiest storyline in wrestling history. The WCW invasion was, sadly, the nail in the coffin for arguably the greatest era in wrestling history.
Lance Storm did his part and deserves some credit. Why? Because, at that moment…THE WCW INVASION WAS A HOME RUN BECAUSE THE CROWD HAD BEEN WAITING FOREVER TO SEE IT.
2002: Billy and Chuck’s Wedding
Perhaps this is the most well-known of all these moments for all of the wrong reasons. Take a look at this incident from two specific instances.
Number one: Billy Gunn’s line of “We’re not gay! We have nothing against gay people…” followed by a GIANT pop from the crowd. Tazz’s following line is brilliant, but the moment there is much more important. Not only did it rectify a long standing belief that a babyface homosexual character would work if anyone had the guts to do it, but it immediately made a dynamic new babyface team out of Billy and Chuck. This point was solidified in the following weeks when Billy and Chuck got big reactions every week…only to be buried and split up shortly thereafter.
Number two: Eric Bischoff’s reveal as the minister and the opening shot in the Raw vs Smackdown war between Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon felt fresh, exciting and interesting. Shots were made on both sides, trades and signings were happening constantly and Bischoff even went so far as to forcibly kiss Stephanie (even though she might have enjoyed it). Of course, this all ended with a giant Raw vs Smackdown match that had massive implications of the entire WWE. Oh…it didn’t? Nothing came out of all of this? Even though the crowd was excited about it? Oh…well…fuck me, right?
That is a shame. At that moment…THE BRAND EXTENSION LOOKED TO BE A GREAT IDEA THAT WOULD PROVIDE WWE FANS YEARS OF EXCELLENT STORYLINES AND NEW STARS.
2007: Mr. Kennedy is drafted to Raw
Yeah…everything about this just makes you shake your head. From the crowd’s excitement to the excellent job the commentators do selling the moment to everything building up for Kennedy (winning MITB, losing it to Edge sympathetically because of injury) meant moving to Raw and becoming the next breakout star that had to happen because the fans demanded it.
Instead, we got a suspension, multiple wrong turns as it relates to his character and enough injuries to make Ahmed Johnson blush.
This one also upsets me deeply, so I won’t elaborate too much. Why? It’s simple. At that moment…MR. KENNEDY LOOKED TO BE WWE’S NEXT STONE COLD OR THE ROCK.
2011: The Miz celebrates
One could argue that The Miz could make up half of this list. There is his promo walking around backstage as US Champion, ripping into JBL and staking his claim to arriving as a force in the WWE. There is his promo after winning Money in the Bank that certified the fact that the Miz deserved to be a future WWE Champion. There is his match with Daniel Bryan at Night of Champions that is already underrated.
Instead, I will go with the night after WrestleMania 27. The Miz had retained his WWE Championship in the main event, something very few heels will ever get a chance to do. The next night on Raw, Stone Cold was introducing the cast of the new Tough Enough when The Miz’s music blared to interrupt him. Immediately, the crowd’s reaction was a tad different. There were some cheers. Sure, the WWE was still in Atlanta after WrestleMania, but it sounded different than a smart crowd. It was reminiscent of Triple H in 2000. The crowd LOVED to hate him, but still loved him. From The Miz gloating about his win to earning respect from his concussion the previous night to his epic line on Erik about being Buckwheat, everything about this moment said “The Miz is going NOWHERE.”
So many roads seemed open for him that night. He could be the new Ric Flair and hold onto the title as a fantastic heel for years to come. He could eventually win the crowd over entirely and become like The Rock. One thing was for sure, or so it seemed: The Miz was a main event player for life.
Now, we all know that The Miz has been doing jobs to Brodus Clay and can only earn convincing wins on Superstars LESS THAN A YEAR AFTER THIS MOMENT, but it still shocks me that it has happened and nothing looks like it going to change it.
But, let us look at this moment and say…THE MIZ HAD THE CHANCE TO BE SOMETHING SPECIAL FOR THE REST OF HIS TENURE IN THE WRESTLING BUSINESS.
Until then, feel every moment like it is the rest of your life. It may or may not be in your memory for that long anyway.