Have you ever noticed that when pro wrestlers get hurt during WWE programs, they tend to get taken off to “local medical facilities” rather than, say, Kaiser-Permanente or Bellevue? How about how when a sports entertainer “gets arrested,” they always get carted away by the “metropolitan police” instead whatever actual police department protects the area? Whether you’ve noticed or not, there’s a very specific reason WWE uses euphemistic terms whenever actual public services are mentioned in company storylines.
For once, it isn’t WWE trying to pull the wool over fans eyes and hide how fake things are, at least not for their own purposes. The bizarre reality is that enough wrestling fans have trouble separating fact from fiction that whenever actual places and establishments get mentioned by name, these locations get flooded with calls from concerned members of the WWE Universe. On especially rare instances, fans don’t even require a number to call, and have frantically dialed 9-1-1 to alert the authorities about activities occurring inside wrestling rings.
While it may not be too surprising to learn this practice was commonplace before Vince McMahon openly shattered kayfabe in the early ‘90s, the trend hasn’t stopped just because more viewers are on the up and up. If anything, it might be on the rise, with increased social media platforms making it far too easy for fans to file false and reactionary police reports based on things they see on TV and either can’t or don’t bother trying to understand. Keep reading to learn about 15 times pro wrestling got so real fans actually called the cops.
15. Pillman’s Got A Gun
On November 4, 1996, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin broke into Brian Pillman’s house and beat up several of his friends, causing Pillman to fire a gun in Austin’s general direction. He had been waving the gun around throughout most of the highly controversial segment, and we wouldn’t be surprised if a few fans were genuinely concerned shots were fired. Home break-ins aren’t exactly common in wrestling, and adding a gun to any situation makes it far more dangerous than a mere match. In all fairness to the fans who called the cops, that was exactly what Kevin Kelly begged someone to do seconds before Raw went off the air. According to Bruce Prichard, WWE officials even saw it coming, alerting authorities ahead of time that they were probably going to get calls about it before the show aired. In retrospect, the segment has been called both one of the most controversial moments in Raw history and also one of the most influential. The gritty realism Austin, Pillman, and that deadly weapon provided in many ways solidified that the Attitude Era had arrived, and fans were going to accept some unlawful activities were about to occur on a weekly basis.
14. Rioting Fans Call The Cops On Themselves
For as hotly invested as wrestling fans can get during the most intense matches, only a small handful of full blown riots have actually taken place during sports entertainment events. WWE hasn’t seen an actual riot in nearly 20 years, and the last one before that was too long ago for most reporters to remember. Well, the second to last one, that is. The most amazing part about the 1997 WWE riots was that they happened two nights in a row, first in Memphis, Tennessee and then in Little Rock, Arkansas. Fans in both crowds blamed the riot on bad matches, main events getting delayed, poor security, and mass amounts of alcohol fueling the fire. The main events (DX vs. Lawler/Jarrett in Memphis and Michaels/Shamrock in Little Rock) both went from delayed to completely canceled when fans kept throwing garbage at DX, causing Shawn Michaels to leave in a huff. WWE authorities later backed HBK’s decision, acknowledging it was a hostile work environment to say the least. Police eventually arrived on the scene, with at least 13 arrests occurred on the second night alone.
13. Brent Albright Gets A Sweet & Sour Beating
When WWE or another major media company wants to fake an accident that requires medical attention, there’s all sorts of smoke and mirrors they can rely on to make it look more real than it is. More importantly, these companies have the resources to turn would-be crime scenes into obvious film sets. Bright cameras and flashing lights clue in both fans and passersby that what they’re seeing is all a show. Indy wrestling companies don’t have these frills, which is why a parking lot brawl in Ring of Honor instantly grew a crowd of real people who screamed for someone to call the police. Larry Sweeney’s Sweet & Sour stable were giving a beat down on Brent Albright, which had started inside the arena and spilled to the streets, was suddenly interrupted when three actual police cars arrived on the scene. It would seem whoever called the police wasn’t a wrestling fan, because the crowd quickly dispersed by the time authorities arrived. Not that it mattered, of course, as RoH officials were able to smooth things over without incident.
12. Matt Hardy Pretends He’s Suicidal
Social media has made it easier for wrestlers and fans to connect with one another than ever before. Sports entertainers can Tweet, email, and send video messages to fans on a daily basis in addition to whatever airtime they happen to get in the ring. While the Internet can create a niche superstar overnight if they know what they’re doing, if the wannabe meme generator is less graceful in their efforts, things can go to hell real fast. Like, for example, Broken Matt Hardy posting a video suicide note to his YouTube account. Had Hardy somehow worked his suicide gimmick in the ring, it would have been controversial, but by doing it online he was being downright stupid. Of course fans believed the suicide note was real, because they had absolutely no reason to believe it wasn’t. Real people write cries for help online all the time, a fact Hardy realized first hand when police arrived at his house to ask him about what he posted. Also unsurprisingly, it never actually led to anything involving a wrestling ring, making the whole thing no more than a miserably failed publicity stunt.
11. For Information On Bret Hart, Please Dial…
This entry isn’t exactly the same as fans calling the police, but it’s close enough that it definitely deserves mention on our list. On February 15, 2010, Bret Hart called out Vince McMahon on Raw and didn’t get a response, so he decided to go home. While Bret was getting in his limo, another vehicle hit the gas in reverse and slammed the limo door shut against Bret’s leg. It was just part of the show, of course, although WWE made a rare mistake in executing the angle, leading to emergency workers getting bombarded with concerned fans. Remember what the intro said about “medical facilities?” In case you missed it, WWE gave themselves a reminder on why they don’t use the names of actual hospitals on that fateful February night, when Bret was carted away by the real Midwest Ambulance Service. As if it wasn’t bad enough the company logo was visible, their phone number was also on the truck, and countless concerned fans dialed the service to see if Bret was all right. So many calls were received they needed to post a message on their web site telling WWE fans to stop calling them, noting the number was for emergencies only.
10. Fans Take The Main Event Mafia’s Name Literally
TNA critics often cast the company aside as WWE-lite, and that was never more apparent than during the Main Event Mafia’s heyday. Composed entirely of former WWE and WCW legends, the MEM still managed to buck expectation by focusing more on the Mafia side of their name than the Main Event part, once inciting a full scale riot involving nearly the entire TNA roster. The incident occurred on the August 8, 2009 episode of Impact, starting when the Mafia merged with Eric Young’s World Elite. A gigantic eight-man tag match took place later in the show, which fast fell apart when more and more wrestlers kept arriving on the scene. In a transparent attempt at reviving the excitement of the Attitude Era, with Mike Tenay screaming on commentary that this was crazier than the nWo, the segment ended the only way it could, with police arriving on the scene and getting the fighting to stop. You’d think fake cops arriving on the scene would ease any worried fan’s fears, but then again you might also expect fans to realize wrestlers fighting one another in a wrestling ring isn’t something cops actually care about.
9. James Storm Kills Mickie James
Professional wrestling characters generally don’t like one another. Every team of best friends will one day become bitter enemies, and at any given moment one wrestler might try and seriously injure one another in the middle of a ring. Murder is a concept that only comes up in the rarest of occasions, though, and it’s typically treated as something too dastardly even for the most vile of heels. That didn’t stop James Storm from very casually attempting to kill Mickie James on a random episode of TNA Impact Wrestling in June of 2015. After one of the most poorly acted segments in wrestling history, Storm and James teleported to a metro station where Mickie dropped her phone because she didn’t notice the giant train next to them. No, that doesn’t make sense, but it’s a very literal description of what happened. In any event, Storm proceeded to hip bump James off the platform and onto the train tracks, presumably to her death. Initially the segment was meant to write her character out of TNA forever, until enough fans alerted the police that officers actually went to James Storm’s house and questioned him about it. While the cops treated the situation with good humor, James nonetheless made one last appearance in TNA a few weeks later to prove she was alive and let fans stop worrying.
8. Vince McMahon’s Limo Explodes
You gotta give WWE a little bit of credit on this one – part of the reason fans believed Vince McMahon’s limousine actually exploded on June 11, 2007 was the company somehow convincing a number of actual news outlets to play along with the story. While most reporters gave a winking awareness it probably wasn’t real, WWE sent out actual press releases saying their owner and CEO was missing and presumed dead, and a few legitimate outlets picked up the story. Understandably, a few fans started to question whether or not it was real (allegedly including a certain future President). Before any of that happened, however, people in the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania area where the show was filmed simply saw a massive explosion near the arena. Not knowing if it was real, scripted, or even caught on camera, many called the police because of the fire and noise alone. Were there also a few wrestling fans in the mix who genuinely worried McMahon was dead? Based on the rest of these stories, it’s certainly possible.
7. The nWo Attack WCW Monday Nitro
The night was July 29, 1996. Hulk Hogan had turned heel and joined the nWo only a few weeks earlier, and he was one week away from his WCW Championship match against The Giant at Hog Wild. But first, his cohorts The Outsiders needed to commit the most memorable assault in WCW Monday Nitro history. It started during a pretty decent 6-man tag match between The Four Horsemen and the triumvirate of Lex Luger, Sting, and Randy Savage. Suddenly, Jimmy Hart, a rival of both teams, ran out to the ring and begged for help in the parking lot, where Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were annihilating Rey Mysterio. They fled the scene after tossing Mysterio into a production truck like a lawn dart, also taking out Arn Anderson, Buff Bagwell, and Scotty Riggs in the process. If there was any flaw to the angle, it was that it lasted a little too long, but that was also what made fans buy into it as an actual assault. In addition to fans calling the cops, according to Kevin Sullivan, even a few people working for the Disney/MGM Studio (where the episode was filmed) could be heard discussing whether or not police intervention was needed.
6. Eddie Gilbert Runs Down The King
While this list has made it clear wrestling fans tend to be a gullible bunch, this old school example involving fans calling the cops on the Gilbert Brothers included a number of poor decisions that made it almost inevitable authorities would get involved. First of all, it happened in 1990, earlier than most other incidents we’ve mentioned and before Vince McMahon broke the truth about kayfabe. Second, it happened in a parking lot with very minimal production. Eddie and Doug Gilbert actually fled the scene after hitting Lawler, not coming back for quite a long time, and the coupe de grace was that the parking lot the accident was filmed at happened to be directly across the street from a police station, so fans could and did literally run inside and yell, “Follow that car!” Cops knew enough not to actually chase Gilbert down, but they still had to do some sort of investigation to make sure it was all a show, leading them to Lawler’s hospital room to ask if he wanted to press charges. Lawler claimed he was at fault and declined legal action, and yet it still wasn’t enough, so he needed to show up on TV through a video message to tell fans they should stop calling the cops because he’d take care of Gilbert himself.
5. The Arrest of Billy Joe Travis Warrants TV Time
Another entry that gets on the list by a slight technicality, in that only one person called the cops in particular, and by no means was she a fan of Billy Joe Travis. The full story is that Travis, a small time wrestler who became a moderate cult star working for Jerry Lawler, was an even worse husband than he was a sports entertainer. After divorcing his wife, he was so negligent in his child support payments that it became criminal negligence, leading his ex to call the cops and alert them to his next known whereabouts. Said whereabouts were naturally his place of work, the TV studio where Lawler’s promotion taped their weekly show. The police arrived while filming was still ongoing, and Lawler was downright gleeful about the happenstance…as long as he got to film it. The authorities agreed, and Travis became perhaps the only man legitimately arrested on a wrestling program. Ever the consummate professional, Lawler and his bookers were quick to come up with a storyline about how Travis was getting arrested in conjunction with his feud against Brian Christopher, better known to most fans as Jerry’s kid.
4. Indy Wrestler Thinks Working Stiff Is Illegal
Laugh all you want at these stories and the fans in them who will believe anything; at least it’s still real to them, damn it. Pro wrestling is still real to the best performers in the industry, too, which is how they got fans to believe what they were doing in the first place. Not everyone inside the business totally “gets it,” though, including a small-timer named Steelhorse Vachon who happened to get trained by D-Von Dudley. Vachon’s opponent, Tommy Taylor, apparently went off-script and started stiffing him in the ring, which has been known to happen quite often in the wrestling business. What made this different is instead of complaining to the promotion owner or simply fighting back, Vachon called the real police and claimed his fake opponent was really assaulting him. The most absurd part? Take a look at that photo and guess which one’s Vachon. If you assumed it was the little guy, mad the big guy was sitting on him, you’d be dead wrong. D-Von has never commented on his failed student’s faux pas, and Vachon has unsurprisingly disappeared from the business.
3. Vince McMahon Gets Arrested In New York City
While the WWE Universe is so adamant about not using the names of real public services it’s already come up a number of times on this list, there are certain governing bodies so iconic that they don’t need to be named for regular folk to recognize them. High atop this list is New York’s finest, the NYPD. During the December 28, 2015 episode of Raw, Vince McMahon himself accidentally assaulted an NYPD officer during a brawl with Roman Reigns, leading to his arrest. The night day TMZ reported the real NYPD was flooded with calls about McMahon, although there is still mass confusion about what exactly those calls entailed. The cops already had the incident in question on film, so there wasn’t much onlookers could add. Were fans giving evidence against Vince, arguing in his defense, or simply asking for information? The world may never know. What we can be relatively sure of is that WWE will never make this mistake again, and most certainly won’t be doing any more arrest angles in New York anytime soon.
2. The Horsemen Break Dusty’s Hand
The earliest story contained within this list is also perhaps the most iconic, taking place way back in 1986. The Four Horsemen were the cockiest and most conniving heels the NWA or any other wrestling promotion had ever seen, and their feud with Dusty Rhodes had reached a point where words couldn’t cover their rage any longer. In take things to the next level, the Andersons and J.J. Dillon chased Rhodes down in his car and broke his arm with a baseball bat, all filmed with a grainy handheld camera. In all fairness, it was the camera style more than anything else that made fans believe it, as action outside of the ring had virtually never happened on a major scale up to that point. That the Horsemen were gleeful about getting caught (they filmed the video and shared it with the NWA, after all) only infuriated fans further, causing them to call police en masse and beg they do something about these nefarious egomaniacs who tried to kill The American Dream.
1. New Jack: Pro Wrestling’s Original Gangsta
Everyone makes mistakes, and more wrestlers have been arrested than most promoters would like to admit. Typically, however, sports entertainers try to put their lives of crime behind them when they set foot in the ring, which is what sets New Jack apart from the average athlete. Another difference between New Jack and the other wrestlers on this list is that when the cops were called on the former ECW Tag Team Champion, it tended to end in an actual arrest. In one incident, a so-called hardcore match ended with Jack carted out in handcuffs after legitimately stabbing his opponent 14 times. Another scene saw him get in a legitimate drunken shoving match with a promoter after insulting a female in the audience, all in the middle of a show. Amazingly, said promoter chose not to press any charges when police arrived moments later. There have also been plenty of unconfirmed reports about New Jack catching the eye of local security at country fairs and other small venues he performed at, especially when he made unannounced appearances.
Sources: WWE, TMZ, Pro Wrestling Torch, Wrestling Observer Newsletter