It has been a pop culture cliché for several decades now that “there’s no crying in baseball.” Tom Hanks bellowed those words in the 1988 film A League of Their Own, and the maxim has been accepted as fact within America’s favorite pastime ever since. One of America’s other favorite pastimes doesn’t have quite the same rule, though. Despite another cliché implying big, tough, musclemen aren’t the type to cry, as it would turn out, pro wrestlers are increasingly prone to letting flow the water works when the drama inside the ring reaches a particularly emotional fever pitch. WWE, in particular, has been instructing some of their toughest and most successful wrestlers to bawl uncontrollably in the center of the ring on an almost regular basis these days, to both positive and negative results.
Pro wrestling is about drama, so there’s nothing wrong with male or female superstars showing their emotions when appropriate, as it often is. Many of these moments accentuate either a key victory or defeat, so it makes sense that extreme joy or sadness could bring an athlete to tears at those moments. Other times involve characters losing their jobs and livelihoods, and these moments, too, can easily bring a person who loves their career to sob if the situation feels real enough. Unfortunately, not all of the moments on this list are so noble, and occasionally wrestlers have looked weak or even stupid due to their inability to control themselves and dry their tears when the cameras are rolling. Keep reading to learn about 15 shocking times pro wrestlers broke down crying in the ring.
15. Bob Backlund Loses It
Fans of every era know WWE Hall of Famer Bob Backlund has always had a few screws loose, but there’s a misconception among newer recruits about when exactly Bob first snapped. Backlund’s most famous case of the “crazies” didn’t come until he turned heel in 1994, but fans who were paying attention knew he was capable of such a thing from as early as September 25, 1982. Tears can be used to sell more than just sadness, and Backlund had a wide range of emotion on display as he fell to his knees in absolute horror after witnessing the result of former champion “Superstar” Billy Graham stealing and destroying Backlund’s WWE World Championship belt.
Backlund freaked out in the manner he would eventually become well known for, bawling and repeatedly screaming the word “No!” as he held the tattered pieces of his prized possession in his hands. Vince McMahon and Backlund’s manager, Arnold Skaaland, did their best to console him, and when the champion finally composed himself, fans knew the villainous Graham was in for a serious beating from their sometimes a little bit deranged hero.
14. The Iron Women Earn Their Tears
Despite what stereotypes may imply, thanks to the fact that women received a marginalized role in professional wrestling for many years until fairly recently, only a few female superstars have been brought to tears in memorable enough fashion to wind up on our list. As more women become involved in major storylines, more are getting emotional as part of their celebrations, and what the women are celebrating has transcended beyond merely winning matches to actually changing the wrestling business and destroying the gender gap that has dominated the sport.
The term “Women’s Revolution” has been a ballyhooed buzzword for several years now, and the real crux of the movement is occurring in NXT. One of the most triumphant moments for women in recent months was the main event of NXT TakeOver: Respect, when Bayley and Sasha Banks competed for the NXT Women’s Championship. The match was not only the first ever Iron Match competed between women, it was also the first time women main-evented a WWE special event, and emotions were through the roof from the very beginning as a result. Both women would cry at key points during the match, and tears endlessly poured down Bayley’s face when she ultimately was declared the winner.
13. Triple H Fires Vince McMahon
Vince McMahon was bellowing the words “You’re Fired!” as an emphatic catchphrase back when Donald Trump was merely a controversial businessman. Regardless of the many ways that Vince has received his comeuppance over the years, it seemed like this was one trick the boss had up his sleeves that none of his superstars were ever going to be able to flip around on him. History works in funny ways, though, and that’s why Triple H eventually was able to come to power and represent the WWE Board of Directors on Monday Night Raw one evening, July 18th, 2011. McMahon was celebrating his recent successes as he is wont to do, when his son-in-law entered the ring and delivered a somewhat confusing speech ultimately concluding with the fact that he and the Board of Directors have voted and decided Vince McMahon was to be removed from power.
McMahon’s acting skills have never been on prouder display than in this segment, as his eyes welled with tears and his face presented an emotional journey all it’s own while Triple H gave his rambling address. Triple H was faking tears of his own by the end, but it’s Vince who deserves the spotlight here, as his reserved implosion was one of the most realistic looking breakdowns on the list.
12. Mark Henry Pretends To Retire
It can take a few years before a wrestler finds themselves as a performer, and in the case of Mark Henry, it took nearly two decades. Once Henry locked into his talents, however, he almost became one of the most impressive microphone workers in WWE overnight. His acting skills were never more potent than on June 17th, 2013. Henry entered the ring wearing a downright dapper salmon suit and gave an emotional and heartwarming speech about his career, implying that he was about to retire.
Henry broke into tears when he started talking about his daughter, bringing the crowd to their feet, and causing then-WWE World Champion John Cena to lead a standing ovation. Of course, that was Henry’s cue to turn on Cena and prove that it was all a lie. The fact that the tears were real, truly sold the moment. Henry would bust out his emotional range once again at Night of Champions 2014, letting out a few tears as Lillian Garcia sang the National Anthem prior to a match against Rusev. Unfortunately for Henry in both instances, he came up short in his battles, though he came out of them with fans viewing him in an all-new and perhaps better light than ever before.
11. Y2J Trolls The Crowd
Many of the moments on this list are incidents of extreme emotion, when wrestlers were genuinely unable to hold back their body’s natural responses to how they were feeling. A few of them involved wrestlers using that emotion to their dastardly advantage, and none have gone further than Chris Jericho in this regard. Jericho has been around WWE for decades now, and is just as known for his exploits in the ring and on the microphone as he is for his regularly bombastic and memorable returns from hiatus. In early 2012, Jericho came back from a tour with his band through a series of cryptic and confusing vignettes, promising something big on January 2, 2012. Y2J made his epic return on that night, but merely took in the crowd’s applause and didn’t say a word.
The next week, Jericho once again returned to the ring, and this time, fans were hoping he would have something to say. Instead, Y2J once again soaked in the fan response for as long as possible, even starting to fake tears at the idea that his audience would be so happy to see him. Ironically, it was about the same time Jericho pretended to cry that many fans started to catch on to his trolling, and a few boos started to permeate through the crowd. Luckily, Jericho was emotional enough that he needed to make his exit before any more of his adoring public could turn on him.
10. Vickie Guerrero Fires Kelly Kelly
Getting fired is an emotional affair for anyone, especially those who for some reason, never saw it coming. Kelly Kelly didn’t stand out her first few years in WWE, acting as a gorgeous but more or less irrelevant distraction in ECW, and floundering when she made her debut on Raw. Kelly jumped to SmackDown in 2010, and became involved in a major angle starting with the 2011 Royal Rumble, when she helped Edge retain the WWE World Championship in a match against Dolph Ziggler. The next week, SmackDown GM Vickie Guerrero punished Kelly and Edge by placing them in a handicap match against Ziggler and Laycool.
Edge and Kelly managed to win the battle, but Vickie was still furious, and decided to immediately fire Kelly when the bell rang. Edge was dumbfounded, while Kelly rolled out of the ring in tears. While there’s nothing wrong with the idea behind this angle, the performer in question wasn’t the best suited for the role, as although it was clear Kelly was crying, there didn’t seem to be any true emotion behind it, unlike with many of the other examples we’ve mentioned.
9. LayCool Bully Mickie James
Be-A-Star is the name of a WWE charity campaign allegedly focused on ending childhood bullying. The organization’s efforts have been marred somewhat by the fact that professional wrestling is a genre loaded with bullying, by both heels and faces, both onscreen and in real life. While it makes enough sense for a bad character to be presented as a bully, there needs to be a triumphant payoff for the people being bullied, or else the story comes off as petty and mean-spirited. Case in point, the feud between Mickie James and LayCool that regularly dragged SmackDown to a halt throughout the winter of 2009.
Michelle McCool and Layla El had been teaming as Mean Girls-inspired women, and due to the fact that James was considered by fans to be a better wrestler than either of them, she became their primary target. LayCool pretended the very in-shape Mickie was fat, calling her “Piggy James,” oinking and making horrific comments at every chance they could. The worst incident was on November 20, when James defeated Layla, causing McCool to air a poorly Photoshopped video of a pig with Mickie’s face on its head. Stupid as the video was, it deeply offended Mickie James, and she ran out of the ring with tears running down her face as a result.
8. The Big Crybaby
There’s nothing inherently wrong with an athlete being overcome with emotion during key points in their career, regardless of their size, or what they look like in general. There’s not even anything wrong with it if an athlete is particularly prone to such a thing, and breaks down into tears with slightly less provocation than others, as long as the tears feel earned in some ways. Unfortunately, WWE has pushed the trope a little too far with at least one performer, and that man is The Big Show.
The Big Show has been seen crying in a WWE ring more times than we can count. Maybe it isn’t fair to call him a crybaby, but then again, Big Show has also dressed up like a giant baby, so if the shoe fits. Big Show has cried over being fired, because wrestlers made fun of his “dead father,” because fans made fun of him, because he was hurt, because he hurt others, because he was embarrassed, and sometimes The Big Show has even cried just because Stephanie McMahon made him feel like crying. Show has always been one of the better actors in WWE, but this could be one well the writers have dug into a few times too many.
7. The Wedding That Changed The Universe
WWE tries to sell every episode of Monday Night Raw as an earth-shattering event, and although there have been plenty of huge moments in the history of the program, only a few have genuinely changed the face of wrestling as we know it. November 29, 1999 was one of these episodes, culminating with the doomed wedding of Test and Stephanie McMahon. At first, the wedding was played completely sincerely, already making it an emotional affair for the McMahon’s and Stephanie specifically.
As everyone knows by now, Triple H interrupted the wedding to reveal he had drugged, kidnapped, married, and probably sexually assaulted Stephanie in her sleep. In a heartbeat, the greatest moment of Stephanie’s life turned into the most terrifying nightmare imaginable. Of course, in a manner that can only happen in wrestling, Triple H and Stephanie’s marriage gradually transitioned into one of the longest lasting power couples the world has ever known. Nonetheless, when she first learned her fate, Stephanie was an emotional wreck in her father’s arms, bawling uncontrollably while wearing a wedding dress in the center of his wrestling ring.
6. A Savage Reunion
Most of the moments on this list are within at least the latest millennium if not simply the past few years. However, this doesn’t mean crying is a new concept in pro wrestling, and in fact, it highlighted some of the most incredible moments in WWE history for quite some time now, including perhaps the most heartwarming incident in company history. WrestleMania VII took place on March 24, 1991, and one of the biggest matches of the evening was a retirement bout between The Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage. Savage had been a much-hated heel for years, primarily due to his treatment of his former girlfriend, Elizabeth. Savage and Liz broke up some time ago at this point, but for whatever reason, Elizabeth was spotted in the crowd shortly before Randy’s big match began.
Savage lost the match to Warrior after an epic battle that fans will never forget, but the real story took place after Warrior quietly made his exit to take in his victory. Savage remained in the ring to be berated by his new manager, Sherri Martel, who was furious over his loss. Sherri attacked Savage with her heels, causing Liz to run from the crowd and save her former love. Savage and Liz soon locked eyes, and within seconds both had tears in their eyes, overcome by the reunion. The couple then embraced, causing dozens of fans at ringside to turn into blubbering messes, as well.
5. Kurt Angle’s Olympic Celebrations
While this list is proving again and again how exciting it must be for a professional wrestler to win their first major title in the business, that probably doesn’t even compare to the thrill of an amateur athlete reaching the peak of their sport at the Olympics. It would be almost impossible to compare the two, considering how rare both feats are, but at least one man would be able to do so, and his name is Kurt Angle. Naturally, Angle reacted to his various victories much the same way, dropping to his knees with tears in his eyes, crying with unbridled joy.
Angle’s Olympic waterworks occurred in 1996, and his first WWE Championship victory took place at No Mercy 2000. When Angle won the big one in WWE, he not only collapsed in tears, but eventually ran out of the ring while still crying, desperately clutching his prize. Angle would repeat this celebratory behavior multiple times throughout his career, and the crying always remained a huge part of the ordeal.
4. “I’m sorry. I love you.”
Retirement can be an emotional affair, and professional wrestling makes things more interesting by perhaps being the only industry where co-workers can inadvertently force one another to hang up their boots for good. Perhaps the most legendary retirement match in WWE took place at WrestleMania XXIV in 2008, when Shawn Michaels put to rest the career of WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair. Flair and Michaels have both brought up the waterworks on a few occasions, and this match was probably the most sustained instance of two wrestlers crying to make the list.
The next night on Raw, Flair would receive a bombastic send-off featuring dozens of his old friends from the industry all breaking down in tears, but at WrestleMania, no one seemed more affected than the man taking his career away from him. Michaels was wrestling against his will, while at the same time the being the caliber of showman who couldn’t help but put on an epic encounter and do his best to win, thus causing him pain every time he attacked one of the preeminent idols of the business. Michaels and Flair both had tears streaming down their faces in the final moments of the match, as HBK looked Flair dead in the eyes and told him, “I’m sorry. I love you,” before planting him with a Super Kick that retired The Nature Boy once and for all.
3. Ric Flair…Take Your Pick
It was fair of us to criticize The Big Show earlier on in our list, but Showster doesn’t come anywhere near The Nature Boy when it comes to winning WWE’s most likely to cry award. His retirement match and subsequent farewell ceremony was only the tip of the iceberg for Flair becoming emotional, as there were weeks in WCW where his every address would end with passionate screams causing all sorts of liquids pouring out of his facial area.
For a favorite Ric Flair crying moment, it’s hard to go with any event other than his emotional return to WCW in September of 1998. Fans will also no doubt remember back in 1992 when Flair won his first WWE World Championship at that year’s Royal Rumble, and proudly proclaimed to Mean Gene, “With a tear in my eye, this is the greatest moment of my life!” In less fond remembrances, Flair has also cried due to his daughter disowning him, as well as people like Triple H and Eric Bischoff emasculating him, both involving less joyous payoffs.
2. Hulkamania Brought To Tears
This list has shown certain wrestlers are more prone to the waterworks than others, and perhaps a surprising entry into that list of emotionally volatile competitors is a man who seemed like he always kept his cool in one way or another, the Immortal Hulk Hogan. Hogan has always been appreciative of his fans, and he’s also had louder fans than virtually any other wrestler in WWE history, but he still never seemed like the kind of guy to become overwhelmed, always brushing off the love and posing, giving his adoring crowd what they want.
Hogan’s slick veneer started to fade in his old age, and by 2003, the power of Hulkamania was even affecting the man who started the craze. Hogan returned from a brief hiatus on January 23 of that year, causing a shocking and unprecedented nearly 20-minute ovation from the live crowd. Hogan wordlessly joked that he had things he needed to say the first few times, but as the crowd only grew louder and more emphatic in their love, even the Hulkster started to show some humanity and shed a few gracious tears over how the world was treating him.
1. HBK Loses His Smile
The moments on this list have been emotional, unexpected, and triumphant, and it generally has made complete sense for the performers involved to break down in tears when they took place. Shawn Michaels announcing he had “lost his smile,” while anything but triumphant, certainly fit the bill as emotional and unexpected in February of 1997, but before long, it turned into one of the most controversial moments in the history of professional wrestling.
The idea was that Michaels was suffering from nagging injuries, and more importantly, severe emotional stress that was preventing him from performing on the top level of competition he felt was expected of him. Then and now, anyone who watches the segment can tell HBK was definitely going through something serious at the time, although hindsight would indicate drugs and a tumultuous personal life were as important to the ordeal as anything that took place in the ring. Nonetheless, the tears and the disappointment on the faces of Michaels, McMahon, and everyone else in the ring were unforgettable, and that night remains one of the most tearful episodes WWE has ever seen.