Keep it quiet, but sports entertainment may be a little pre-planned and scripted. We know, it pretty crazy, right?
Following the cat being well and truly let out of the bag by Vince McMahon back when the Attitude Era was in its infancy, we saw confirmation of what we’d all been told but we’re likely in denial about – that professional wrestling was a pre-determined business. Since then, the "sports entertainment" phrase has been rammed down our throats as the WWE seemingly does its best to take away any semblance of realism from their product thanks to giving us endless looks behind the curtain or constantly reminding us that certain talents simply play "bad guys" on TV.
Of course, while the action is scripted and planned ahead of time, things don’t always go to plan. No, there have been countless times when wrestlers were forced to go off script during the decades. And that’s exactly what we’re going to explore here.
So, in an industry that is so often meticulously planned out these days, here’s 15 examples of when wrestlers abandoned whatever plans were in place — be that due to having no other choice or maybe even going in to business for themselves!
15 Daniel Puder Embarrasses Kurt Angle
This particular entry isn’t exactly a wrestler being forced to go off script, more a referee thinking on his feet.
After Kurt Angle had put out an open challenge to any of the Tough Enough contestants during a November 2004 edition of SmackDown, Daniel Puder decided to step up and try his luck against the Olympic Hero. Rather than the usual scripted action, however, this was a legitimate shoot fight.
When Puder surprised Angle by gripping his arm in a key lock before transitioning to a kimura, the WWE were left with the very real prospect of an unknown rookie either breaking the arm of one of their biggest stars, or said huge star having to embarrassingly tap out.
Luckily, veteran referee Jimmy Korderas was on the scene and bogusly counted Puder’s shoulders down for a 3-count; successfully stopping a bad situation from becoming even worse.
14 Vince McMahon Doesn’t Need Quads!
The 2005 edition of the Royal Rumble was a show that featured one of the most awkward looking injuries seen on screen in the WWE. Not only did Vince McMahon blow out one of his quads, the crazy old bastard actually blew out both quads!
The Rumble match itself was supposed to be won by the Raw brand’s Batista, only the finish of the match ran in to a huge problem. When Batista was due to eliminate his last opponent — SmackDown’s John Cena — The Animal toppled over the top rope himself, thus eliminating both he and Cena at the same time.
As confusion rained down on Fresno’s Save Mart Center, McMahon improvised by stomping to the ring and ordering the match to be restarted with the final two competitors. In doing said "stomping," Vince legit tore both of his quadriceps, leaving him to make the announcement from an awkward and feeble seated position.
13 Jeff Hardy Ruins Victory Road
One of the saddest sights seen by many wrestling fans is the sight of an intoxicated Jeff Hardy making a mockery of TNA’s Victory Road show in 2011.
The main event of that show was to see the legendary Sting defend the TNA World Heavyweight Championship against Hardy, only it was clear to see from the moment Hardy made his entrance that the bout was never really going to take place. Jeff was completely under the influence and the call was made by Eric Bischoff to have the Stinger finish the match as soon as possible.
After 1 minute and 28 seconds, Sting pinned the wasted Charismatic Enigma as fans chanted “bullsh*t” — a chant that Sting agreed with. Following that match, Hardy would complete a 120-day stint in rehab.
12 Steve Austin’s Broken Neck
One of the biggest reasons for a wrestler to go off script is a legitimate injury. And when it comes to injuries, they don’t come much worse than a broken neck!
For Steve Austin, the 1997 edition of the SummerSlam pay-per-view that nearly saw his career come to an end. Facing Intercontinental Champion Owen Hart in a match where he’d have to kiss Hart’s ass if he lost, Austin was meant to defeat the Calgary native. Worryingly, a botched piledriver would temporarily paralyze Austin and eventually lead to the severe neck issues that would see the Texas Rattlesnake retire in 2003 at the age of just 38.
As for the SummerSlam match, the finish would be improvised due to Austin’s condition — with Stone Cold getting the weakest-looking roll-up on Hart.
11 Regal Makes A Fool Of Goldberg
As 1998 began, Bill Goldberg had amassed quite the impressive winning streak, running through opponent after opponent in a matter of minutes. Then came his February 1998 Nitro bout with Steven Regal.
Deciding to use his vast wrestling knowledge to test Goldberg a little, Regal managed to completely confuse Da Man as he ran circles around him with hold after hold. Essentially, the future NXT General Manager forced Goldberg to go off script and see if he could work on the fly. Of course, the confusion of the match transmitted through to the audience, with the match, while fun, looking pretty hideous from a technical and smoothness standpoint.
With many seeing this as Regal taking liberties with WCW’s most prized asset, the Englishman was promptly fired from Ted Turner’s wrestling organization.
10 Gail Kim Walks Out On WWE
Now with this entry, Gail Kim wasn’t exactly forced to go off script — she chose to do so out of her own free will due to her frustration with how her second stint with the WWE had played out.
The former Women’s Champion and seven-time TNA Knockouts Champion was sick of how Vince McMahon’s company was using its female talent, and the final straw for Gail came during an August 2011 edition of Raw. Having been instructed to be eliminated from a Battle Royal in under a minute, Kim decided to just exit the match of her own free will in protest of the treatment of her and her female colleagues.
While nobody was forced to majorly go off script because of this — due to Kim exiting the match as early as booked — it still didn’t sit particularly well with WWE management, and it got even worse for them when Kim swiftly quit the company.
9 Jack Veneno, NWA Champion?
Many of you out there may have absolutely zero idea who Jack Veneno is. To others, you may see him as a former NWA World Heavyweight Champion — or possibly not.
Back in 1982, Ric Flair was the travelling NWA Champ, moving from territory to territory and challenging those deemed worthy. Upon arriving in the Dominican Republic, Flair was pitted against local hero Jack Veneno.
The match itself was supposed to end in a draw, but the crowd jumped the gun a tad. As the match ended, so loud were the locals fans that they didn’t hear the official announcement. Instead, they saw Flair down on the mat and “Venom” Jack left standing. They raucously cheered their national icon, believing he’d won the prestigious NWA Championship.
Fearing a legitimate riot, Flair stayed down, letting the crowd believe that their man had won the big one! Even more extreme, in a rematch between the two, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was stopped from interfering to help Flair by local gun-carrying fans.
So, Jack Veneno, NWA Champion? You tell us.
8 The Infamous Shockmaster Debut
Having made a name for himself in the then-WWF as Tugboat and then Typhoon, Fred Ottman was seen as one of the better "big man" workers of the day. Heading to WCW in 1993, he made a memorable debut as The Shockmaster.
With a painted Stormtrooper helmet on, he bust through a temporary wall, unfortunately tripping on the way, allowing for the helmet to fall off, and the assembled wrestlers all struggling not to laugh. Going way, way off script, Booker T said, “Who is this mother****er?” while the British Bulldog couldn’t help but say how Ottman had fallen on his ass — two comments that were caught on the live mic.
To veer even further from plans, this incident led to The Shockmaster’s gimmick as a whole being changed-up, with the Stormtrooper helmet dropped in favour of a workman’s helmet; a move that couldn’t help save the dead-in-the-water gimmick.
7 New Year, Old Injury
Back in 2001, Triple H famously tore his quadriceps muscle in an amazing tag team match that saw him and Steve Austin lose the WWF Tag Team Championships to Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. Fast forward to 2007, and January’s New Year’s Revolution PPV saw that injury once more rear its head.
At that ’07 show, Hunter was teaming with his DX buddy Shawn Michaels to battle Rated-RKO. Unfortunately for The Game, he’d once more tear his quad after delivering a spinebuster to Randy Orton. From there, the match broke down in to utter chaos as confusion filled the arena. A steel chair would come in to play, and Shawn Michaels would attack the referee as the match ended in a no contest.
How the original finish of the bout was supposed to play out, nobody has gone on record to say. All that we do know, however, is that Triple H’s injury – an injury that kept him out of action for 9 months – caused the competitors to go totally off script.
6 Canada Loves Hogan!
One of the most iconic matches in wrestling history saw the returning Hulk Hogan do battle with The Rock at WrestleMania X8.
While Hogan was the established "bad guy" of the feud going in to the match, the crowd at Toronto’s SkyDome had other ideas. Choosing to boo The Great One and rowdily cheer The Hulkster, the Canadian crowd forced the two wrestlers to go off script from their planned battle.
Deciding to simply go with it, Rock played it up as more of the bad guy of the bout, while Hogan returned to his classic Hogan shtick of yesteryear; something which only further amped up the crowd.
Hulk Hogan has had a long history of being loved in Canada — most notably during WrestleMania VI at Toronto’s Rogers Centre — and the raucous SkyDome fans ultimately forced him and The Rock to go off script for their legendary WrestleMania X8 encounter.
5 Chris Jericho VS Lil’ Naitch
When Chris Jericho did battle with Neville during a May 2016 episode of Raw, the planned finish of the match was thrown out of the window when The Man That Gravity Forgot suffered a nasty injury; a broken ankle, to be precise.
Once Jericho realised that his opponent was injured, he quickly went to cover him for the 1-2-3 and end the bout. Unfortunately, referee Charles Robinson only counted to 2, not realising that Neville was legitimately hurt. Ever the pro, Jericho then thought that if he began to push Robinson — often referred to as Lil’ Naitch due to his association with Ric Flair — then the ref would DQ him and take the focus off the injured Neville.
What actually happened was Robinson got hot and started shoving the former Undisputed Champ back, even dropping an F-bomb on the live broadcast. Eventually, Jericho would be DQ’d but it was a majorly awkward situation to see play out on TV.
4 The King’s On-Air Heart Attack
In terms of truly chilling on-air wrestling moments, Jerry “The King” Lawler’s very real heart attack during a September 2012 edition of Monday Night Raw was a moment that wrestling fans will never forget.
As the Team Hell No pairing of Daniel Bryan and Kane battled The Prime Time Players, it suddenly became clear that something wasn’t right. Fans in attendance were looking towards the announce table. The wrestlers involved in the match were looking towards the announce table. And then, it was eventually revealed that Lawler had suffered a heart attack.
Of course, happenings like this simply cannot be planned for, and it was left to Michael Cole to initially continue to call the in-ring action despite his longtime colleague and friend receiving medical attention alongside him.
The King was reportedly clinically dead for 20 minutes, but that Raw episode ended with the news that Lawler’s heart was once again beating. A truly shocking moment — but a moment that was so close to being even worse.
3 The Great Antonio Gets Schooled
The Great Who? The Great Antonio was essentially an elaborate jobber for the most part of his career in the mainstream spotlight, but he’s somebody who was involved in an infamous 1977 match.
At Tokyo’s legendary Sumo Hall, The Great Antonio fought the iconic Antonio Inoki. With the match designed simply as a paint-by-numbers win for Inoki, The Great Antonio had other plans and decided to forget the scripted nature of professional wrestling.
Instead, Antonio went in to business for himself and refused to sell any of Inoki’s moves whilst also trying to land real blows on Inoki. Infuriated, the legit-tough Inoki beat the absolute tar out of The Great Antonio both to teach his opponent a lesson and to maintain the prestige around his own persona.
2 The Montreal Screwjob
By this point in time, it really is getting a tad tiresome to still be writing about the infamous Montreal Screwjob — especially given how your humble scribe is a huge Bret Hart fan. Still, when looking at action and events that went off script, you sadly can’t not make mention of this most shocking of happenings.
You know the drill by now. Bret Hart was leaving the WWF for WCW in late 1997. Hart, as WWF Champion, was to face longtime rival Shawn Michaels in one final match at the '97 Survivor Series show. Playing his creative control card, Bret offered to lose the belt to any other superstar or to drop it to Michaels on the following night’s Raw. Vince wanted Michaels to win the belt from The Hitman at Survivor Series, and thus put together a plan with Shawn and Triple H for Hart to be screwed out of the strap.
With less than a handful of people aware of what was about to happen — including referee Earl Hebner being told on his way to the ring — everybody else in the arena were left with their mouths agape, not least at Hart trashing the ringside area after spitting in the face of McMahon.
1 The Passing Of Owen Hart
May 23, 1999 is a day that will be forever remembered in wrestling infamy. Tragically, that was the day that Owen Hart passed.
In a business that has seen far too many tragedies over the decades, the death of Owen Hart still stings to this very day. A true all-time great — not to mention by all accounts a genuine, caring, funny family man — Hart’s death at the 1999 Over the Edge PPV is one of the darkest days in the history of the wrestling industry.
Of course, this forced the WWF to veer off script as this tragedy unfurled. Owen, as the Blue Blazer, was originally set to defeat The Godfather for the Intercontinental Championship on that night, but he would shockingly fall 70ft to his death after his elaborate entrance went wrong.
From there, announcers Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler were given the unenviable task of having to adapt to this situation live on PPV — ultimately informing viewers of Hart’s passing.