Fans of professional wrestling are mostly aware of the fact it’s scripted. This makes wrestling pretty much the only “sport” out there that the crowd actually plays a massive role in—cheer all you want at a football game, but the winning team is going to be the one that plays better that day, not the one the crowd wanted to win. Of course, that’s usually not the case in professional wrestling, either, but that hasn’t stopped fans from screaming their lungs out and bringing dozens of signs to live events begging Vince McMahon and his cohorts to ignore the script and just give them what they want. Especially recently, WWE has been under fire for loudly and defiantly ignoring what the fans want, often choosing to double down on what clearly isn’t working rather than start fresh and listen to the audience. This doesn’t mean they’ve never done that, though.
On at least a few occasions, WWE and other wrestling companies had a specific plan in mind that either immediately or gradually got derailed by wrestling fans forcing them to change the script. In the immediate cases, it was usually a loud or unruly fan distracting a wrestler, but sometimes it’s a fun fan the wrestler genuinely wants to engage with on such a level it’s worth purposefully not doing their job. In the more gradual cases, fans had to fight and scream and beg before Vince McMahon finally listened, but some might argue those instances were the most satisfying of all. Read on and learn about 15 times sports entertainment fans forced the wrestlers to change the script.
15. Forcing The Announcers To Lie From The Start
Everybody knows wrestling is scripted, so let’s start off with an example that shows just how important both the script and the crowd are in WWE. We know Vince McMahon is constantly giving instruction to his announcers through their headsets on what to sell and talk about, and on top of that, he has extensive and in-depth notes for them each and every live show that outlines the major points they should focus on all night long. One thing in common throughout the majority of these scripts is that, for the most part, the crowd isn’t the focus of the show, and therefore they should be ignored unless they’re doing what they’re supposed to do, i.e. cheering the faces and booing the heels.
The whole point of our list is that the crowd doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to do, though, and when that happens, WWE has an extremely annoying and highly controversial method of dealing with this phenomenon: boldly lying. The Raw episode the night after WrestleMania has become an event in and of itself, and one of the defining moments of that event are the diehard vocal fans who try their best to tell WWE who to push for the next year. Instead of celebrating their most intense fans, WWE actually took time out of the show for Michael Cole and JBL to tell the home audience to ignore the crowd, because they weren’t acting the way the usually do. They’ve been making similar off-hand statements for years, but this was the first time they actually scripted a segment of Raw to dismiss the fans, and it’s because they know how damaging it can be when those fans speak up.
14. WCW Crowds Thought The Show Was Garbage
WWE and wrestling crowds in general are getting increasingly vocal these days, with inventive and specific chants telling the wrestling companies what they want to see. During the Attitude Era and earlier, things were a bit simpler—they’d throw garbage at the wrestlers they didn’t like, and if they didn’t like the show in general, the ring would be a sea of garbage by the end of the night. This was a very regular occurrence in WCW, especially during the height of the NWo. Although the company at large was extremely successful, fans seriously hated Hulk Hogan and his helpers staying on top for as long as they did, and threw their beers, food, and whatever else they had on hand at their faces whenever they would give one of their trademark 10-plus-minute interviews.
Usually, the WCW wrestlers did their best to simply work around the garbage the fans threw at them, but on a few occasions they couldn’t help but address it. As Vice President of WCW at the time, Eric Bischoff got a lot of flak for letting the crowds get away with this, but he was one of the few who had to stop in the middle of a promo on Nitro where he was smiling and laughing about Hogan beating up Sting, in order to angrily tell the fans to stop it. Perhaps more significantly than Bischoff’s quick break, virtually every time this happened they would need to cut to commercial or at least to the backstage area, so the ring crew could run in and clean things up before the show could continue.
13. “We Want Matt”
Most of the time, wrestling fans simply cheer or boo for the people in the ring at the time, or at least people advertised on the show for that night. On a few rare occasions, though, there was a specific wrestler meant to be someplace at a specific time, and the fans knew it even if the company didn’t. Matt Hardy was released from WWE in April of 2005 in response to comments he made on social media about his then-girlfriend Lita cheating on him with his former best friend, Edge. The events occurred outside of wrestling in the three superstar’s personal lives, and although most fans agreed Hardy was the one most hurt by the incident, he was the one fired for what he wrote online.
Fans responded by loudly chanting “We Want Matt” whenever Edge or Lita were on screen from then on, completely ignoring whatever stories WWE was actually trying to push with them. This turned Lita heel for the first time in her career, despite her not changing her character on television for several weeks after the crowd started to hate her. When merely chanting Hardy’s name didn’t work, they started a petition for WWE to re-hire Matt that earned tens of thousands of signatures. He finally returned to WWE in a few months, and got to continue his battles with Edge and Lita in the ring like the fans had wanted.
12. “WE WANT FLAIR”
Plenty of names have been at the end of fans chanting about who they want, but the first, most historic, and arguably loudest such chant was directed at WCW in reference to “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Ric Flair was the biggest name star in WCW/NWA history, and that statement is doubly true prior to the Monday Night Wars. Despite this, when a deeply incompetent executive named Jim Herd decided to fire Flair from WCW while he was still the World Heavyweight Champion, fans responded. Flair was a heel at the time, but he was still the face of the company, and thus fans responded by turning the first show without Flair, the Great American Bash 1991, into the unofficial “We Want Flair” show.
The scheduled matches for the Bash weren’t anything special, but the crowd’s constant and immensely negative reaction threw all of the wrestlers off their game and turned it into one of the worst shows of all time as a result. Flair would go through a similar ordeal when Eric Bischoff sued him for no-showing at a TV taping in 1998 and was kept off camera as a result. Again, fans ignored whatever was happening on television and begged for Flair, derailing whatever plans WCW had once they were forced to accept the crowd didn’t care. In both cases, Flair was eventually rehired, and things in WCW were able to go back to normal.
11. The Battery Incident
While the fans were able to throw whatever garbage they wanted into the ring in WCW, things always seemed a bit cleaner in WWE. It’s not that the audience always loved what they were seeing, but they always found a way to express their feelings without throwing things at the wrestlers. That is, with at least one major exception. On March 28, 1998, Shawn Michaels was the hated leader of D-Generation X, and only one day away from facing Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14. WWE was holding a major public event in anticipation of the show, and Austin and Michaels were headlining with a “public workout” featuring them both.
It’s more or less common knowledge at this point that HBK was experiencing a pretty low point in his life at this time and was heavily strung out on drugs, and making matters much worse, during his pre-workout promo, a fan successfully threw a battery at his head. Getting hit with garbage sucks, but a battery is an entirely different story. Michaels was already in a bad mood, and the pain of the battery was severe enough he walked out on the crowd without hesitation. Vince McMahon allegedly chastised him into returning, but in hindsight claimed he understood and was just upset about Shawn disappointing the rest of the crowd.
10. Hulkamania Lives Again
One of the loudest, most memorable, craziest, and most sustained crowd reactions in wrestling history took place during the WrestleMania 18 match between The Rock and Hulk Hogan. Prior to the match beginning, Hogan was a bitter villain who had actually attempted to murder The Rock just a few weeks prior. As soon as he walked out to the ring in Toronto, though, it was immediately clear he was still the star of the show in the eyes of most Canadian fans, and Hulkamania was running wild again. The two had scripted out a long match where they assumed Hogan would be a hated heel, but very quickly both wrestlers realized something had to change for the match to work.
Instead of continuing with Hogan as the bad guy, the two created the match as they went along. The crowd kept loudly reacting to everything they did, but with the character roles reversed, they were able to feed on the crowd’s energy and turn the match into a true WrestleMania moment. The change of plans didn’t stop that night, as months of plans had to be re-written to ride the wave of nostalgia and give Hogan one last run on top as the undisputed WWE World Champion.
9. Vince Actually Gives The People What They Want
A fair question when reading about these wrestlers breaking script and deciding to take matters into their own hands to give fans what they want is how owners like Vince McMahon respond to employees ignoring his instructions. There’s no need to ask that question in this case, since Vince himself was the one who broke the script. On July 11, 2012, the WWE CEO returned to Raw after a brief hiatus to give General Manager John Laurinaitis an evaluation of his job performance. Laurinaitis was riding around in a personality scooter during this era, and McMahon decided to take a joyride from the ring to the backstage area after giving a speech.
Perhaps it’s inaccurate to give the crowd all the credit here, because we don’t know exactly what inspired Vince to do so, but on the ride from the ring back to the locker room, Vince had an idea. Instead of just riding away, he decided to triumphantly throw the scooter off the ramp and shatter it, after which he posed victoriously to a loudly appreciative crowd. Vince may have simply done this in a last minute fit of inspiration, but chances are he recognized how much fun the crowd was having with the segment and the scooter in general, and he knew there was room for an exclamation point that would make it even more memorable.
8. Triple H Taps Out
Triple H has been one of the most hated heels in WWE history since he began his rise in 1996. Nonetheless, there have been a few short eras when he was a respected and beloved figure in WWE, thanks to his position of power within WWE and NXT and his years of dedication in the ring earning him some fans despite his heel actions. In 2012, he and Stephanie McMahon were both verging near face territory by showing respect for The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels and starting a feud with Brock Lesnar. The two wrestled for the first time at SummerSlam 2012, and Lesnar won cleanly by disqualification.
Triple H took the loss slowly and with tears in his eyes, selling the fact Lesnar allegedly broke his arm. Apparently, the crowd was supposed to applaud his courageous attempt at battling the beast, and feel sympathy for a beaten man who tried his best. Triple H stayed in the ring for some time waiting for them to do this. Instead, they mockingly chanted “You tapped out!” What was supposed to be an emotional moment of a crowd appreciating a man’s work turned into them kicking him while he was down, and Triple H’s notoriously fragile ego was badly bruised. WWE would do everything in their power to get him cheered up in time for the next encounter with Brock, but it ended up being kind of meaningless since he went back to being a heel shortly after.
7. Eddie Guerrero Has A Change Of Heart
In WWE or WCW, dozens of writers and a handful of very important corporate executives control everything that happens in the ring with varying degrees of scrutiny. They aren’t always completely hands on, but you can be sure virtually every match has a basic script that someone up top approved. It’s not quite the same with an independent show in front of less than 100 people, where the wrestlers can often just work together with whoever else is in the ring to keep the crowd as entertained as they can. Many wrestlers feel this strategy is more successful than sticking directly to the script, and that includes Eddie Guerrero.
Guerrero spent much of his career in WWE and WCW, but personal problems throughout his life meant he’d occasionally get kicked out of the big leagues and work in an independent federation again. Eddie has told stories of his time in the indies, explaining that he intended on being a heel when he returned to wrestling in small shows, but the crowd reacted to him so positively, he decided to wrestle through it and stay a face. This list is focused on the more bombastic examples of crowds affecting wrestlers, but there’s no way of telling how many times instances like this has occurred with Eddie and countless others.
6. Terry Funk Makes A Misguided Request
Typically when wrestling fans affect the script of a wrestling program, it’s by being loud and telling the people in charge who they want to see. The bloodthirsty and violently minded fans of Extreme Championship Wrestling characteristically took things in a different direction, and came very close to endangering the lives of their wrestlers when they did it. Cactus Jack and Terry Funk had just finished a match that was interrupted by The Public Enemy, and the four hardcore superstars descended into chaos, hitting each other with chairs and whatever the crowd could hand them. In the course of the action, Terry Funk made the mistake of asking the fans for a chair.
ECW wrestlers asking the fans for a weapon wasn’t exactly new. Some even brought their own weird and novelty toys to give their favorite wrestlers to hit their opponents with. This night was special, though, because Funk’s plea for a chair wasn’t answered by just one fan, but rather by quite possibly every single fan in the ECW Arena. It wasn’t long before The Public Enemy were completely buried underneath a sea of chairs, and both Funk and Jack had to hit the floor in order to avoid being hit themselves. Joey Styles got on a microphone to big them to stop throwing their chairs, which eventually worked, but not until they had ran out of chairs to throw.
5. Triple H Is Just Playing A Character
These stories are all about wrestlers changing their minds on the fly thanks to a crowd reacting to them, but typically there needs to be something special about that crowd reaction to get them to do something about it. That’s why a story that quickly went viral, wherein Triple H realized he was making a young fan cry and therefore broke character to hug the kid and calm him down, is particularly noteworthy and confusing. During an episode of Raw in early 2015, Triple H was sitting at ringside and repeatedly getting yelled at by an 8-year-old fan. He turned around and told the kid to stop bothering him, which made the kid cry. Instead of smirking like a good heel would, he patted the kid on the head and told him to stop worrying, because it was just part of the show.
The incident caused a great deal of press for WWE, and a certain amount of both positive and negative controversy. While becoming emotional at the sight of a crying child and trying to help isn’t something that should be criticized, for almost two decades at that point, it was Triple H’s job to get those kids to cry. After this happened, many wondered if he was becoming softer in his age and family life, and questioned what kind of verisimilitude is left in wrestling when one of the most important figures around can Kayfabe at the drop of a hat.
4. The Rock Chats With The Fans
As this list should make abundantly clear, wrestling is very, very scripted. It’s always been that way with the matches and the major ideas, but nowadays, Vince McMahon and a bunch of writers have pre-approved almost every word that comes out of a wrestler’s mouth. Only a few true superstars are allowed to say what they want, and “The Most Electrifying Superstar in Sports Entertainment” is certainly that caliber of star. In January of 2016, The Rock was cutting a scripted promo in the ring when he noticed several fans at ringside dressed as The Undertaker, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, and Rocky himself. WWE security saw the fans, too, and actually had been having issues with them throughout the night, but The Rock was more impressed than annoyed and decided to leave the ring and have a chat with them.
Wrestling doesn’t like to admit it has a script in the first place, so most of these moments were unmentioned as spontaneous on camera. Again, this is The Rock we’re talking about, though, so he didn’t have any problem starting the ordeal by flat-out telling fans he was breaking the script. Apparently, Vince McMahon and other officials were pretty upset with The Great One for breaking script and giving attention to people trying to take attention away from the show, but considering his star power, we’re sure he could do it again next week and they’d still beg him to come back again the week after that.
3. Main Event Ruined By Stabbing
Everything on this list proves that wrestling fans have an incredible power during the show they enjoy, and they’re completely capable of tapping into their power simply by using their words. Even with ECW in mind, it’s been a long time since fans were outright violent maniacs who attacked the wrestlers, but it’s actually happened a bunch of times. Obviously, this affects the show on an even greater level than the loudness, and at least once it destroyed a major WWE main event. In the early 1970s, Pedro Morales was the intensely popular WWE World Champion, and he was set to face Blackjack Mulligan at the Boston Garden. Before the match even began, a fan ran to the ring and repeatedly stabbed Mulligan’s thigh.
Mulligan was badly wounded by the attack, and quickly started to bleed profusely. Gorilla Monsoon rang to the ring with a towel and the man was able to escape, since police thought it was part of the show. The fact the match was obviously going to need to be canceled for Mulligan to attend a hospital was a big enough change in the script, but the fact Monsoon was a face and Mulligan was a hated heel makes the incident stuff of legends. While faces and heels obviously get along behind the scenes today, this was one of the first true cases of Kayfabe being shattered in front of a crowd of thousands, and it was entirely that crowd’s fault.
2. “NWA World Champion” Jack Veneno
Whether or not Jack Veneno is officially a former NWA World Heavyweight Champion is up for debate, but the story that led to him achieving that confusing status is one of the most infamous in wrestling history. In 1982, Ric Flair was the reigning NWA World Champion, and Veneno was the biggest wrestling star in the history of the Dominican Republic. The duty of the NWA Champion at the time was literally to travel the world and put on shows with the best wrestlers each country had to offer, and Veneno was the representative chosen by the Dominicans. Flair was more popular around the world, but in his native country, no one came close to the fame of Venom Jack.
Flair had an incredible work ethic at this time, and many of his matches would end in time limit draws while it seemed like his opponent could still win, setting up a rematch and leaving fans happy. The fans were so loudly cheering for Veneno, however, that they didn’t hear the official announcement of a draw, and many only understood that Veneno was standing, Flair was on the mat, and the match was over. They celebrated as if he had won, and fearing a genuine riot, Flair let the illusion stand. When he returned for a rematch with Veneno, Roddy Piper was supposed to help him win, but again the fans forced the script to change, this time far more violently—Veneno’s fans pointed guns at Piper’s head to prevent his interference.
1. Daniel Bryan’s YES! Movement
The rise of Daniel Bryan was cut far too short for the epic journey to the top that it was. In many ways, his rise to the top started as soon as he decided to enter the ring, but the moment it became overwhelmingly clear he was something special in WWE is easier to pinpoint. In December of 2013, every former WWE and World Heavyweight Champion still with the company was gathered in the ring for Triple H to present Randy Orton with the new, unified WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The only thing Daniel Bryan did this segment was stand in the corner and smile, but the crowd loudly chanted for him the entire time anyway, more than once distracting Triple H to the point he had to stop talking.
While the crowd got louder and louder, Triple H clearly got madder and madder. Some of the other champions in the ring tried to ignore it, but at least The Miz, Rey Mysterio, and Bryan himself seemed extremely amused. The segment in particular went on basically as planned, but the hijacking of the show in Bryan’s name continued on until they reached their fever pitch at the 2014 Royal Rumble. The crowd hated that show and match due to Bryan’s lack of involvement, and made it known the entire time, leading to a massively negative reaction when Batista won. The planned WrestleMania XXX main event up to that point was still for Batista to face Randy Orton for the championship, but the crowd made it known they wouldn’t accept anything less than Bryan, and luckily, they eventually got what they want. The plan was changed to a triple threat match which Bryan won, leaving the audience thrilled at last. So, do WWE crowds matter? YES! YES! YES!