If you were young enough, finding out that professional wrestling isn’t real was probably even more gut-wrenching and soul-crushing than learning that Santa Claus is just a myth. Although the athletes are very much trained, the matches that you see in WWE, TNA, and once WCW, ECW, and the like aren’t actual brawls. These men and women aren’t really hurting each other, at least not in most cases. However, accidents happen. People do get hurt.
The violence isn’t all that’s fake about wrestling. The stories are just that, stories. Couples that you see together on-screen aren’t always together in real life. Tag teams aren’t always really BFFs when the cameras aren’t rolling. Wrestlers get scripts for promos, interviews, and everything they say these days, at least in WWE. Even with all that preparation, sometimes even storylines veer off-track into completely different territory. Here are 12 totally unscripted wrestling moments that caused a lot of controversy.
12 Emma Wins the Fatal 4-Way
If you remember, for a few brief hours in 2014, Emma was fired from WWE for accidentally walking out of a store with an iPad case and not having paid for it. She had been using a self-checkout machine and simply forgot. WWE quickly realized the error and re-hired her that same day, but Emma’s career was never the same. She lost match after match in the women’s division before being sent back down to NXT.
Even there, wins for her are still hard to come by. Therefore, when she met Dana Brooke, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch in a Fatal 4-Way after NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, she was definitely not supposed to win. That’s what happened though. Charlotte should have been victorious, but Emma won instead, pinning Lynch. To NXT’s credit, the show's writers supported the botch and Emma even got a small push afterward.
11 The Brawl for All
In 1998, Vince Russo, one of the most infamous wrestling writers in history, dreamed up the concept of the Brawl for All, which, unlike pro wrestling, was entirely real. Competitors would box or shootfight to victory. Stars that participated included Marc Mero, Bradshaw, Steve Blackman, Henry O. Godwinn, 2 Cold Scorpio, Dan Severn, 8-Ball, the Godfather, Steve Williams, Bob Holly, Quebecer Pierre, and Bart Gunn. The tournament took place each week on Raw for nearly a month. That’s a long time for an event that no one liked.
WWE fans went to live tapings of Raw for the wrestling, and they became very upset when they didn’t get what they wanted. Bradshaw, Jim Ross, and Jim Cornette would later go on to heavily criticize the event. Unlike WWE matches, a winner couldn’t be predicted, and so when Bart Gunn was the last man standing, it was underwhelming at best. That, combined with the injuries the talent suffered and the lack of appeal to fans, made this a disaster.
10 Sting vs. Jeff Hardy at Victory Road 2011
In the '90s, the Hardy Boyz (Matt and Jeff) put their bodies on the line weekly in WWE. They were pioneers of the TLC match, in which they did battle at dizzying heights on ladders while beating others senseless with chairs and tables. Those kinds of matches do lasting damage. Jeff Hardy, although he had a good run with WWE, fell into a drug-fueled dark spot in his career, eventually landing in TNA.
Still, that promotion tried to push him as a top guy, which backfired spectacularly when he met Sting in 2011 at Victory Road in the main event. Hardy was trashed and couldn’t even come down the ramp, let alone wrestle. Sting put Hardy out of his misery with the Scorpion Death Drop and ended the match within minutes. Hardy was probably supposed to win, as he does struggle to free himself from the pin for real, but Sting came away with the victory.
9 Vince McMahon Tears His Quads
The Royal Rumble invites plenty of opportunities for botches and other unscripted moments. After all, it’s easy to slip and fall when you’re not supposed to, altering the course of the entire event. However, what transpired at the 2005 Royal Rumble wasn’t like that. In fact, the incident didn’t even involve an in-ring competitor at all. Instead, it was Vince McMahon who would end up injured by the time the Pay-Per-View went off the air.
WWE writers decided to go with the double elimination storyline, so John Cena and Batista were bickering over whose feet had touched the floor first. As the referees for SmackDown and Raw debated (remember, this happened during the brand split), Vince McMahon himself strode down the ramp with his signature gait, arms swinging and taking long strides. He rolled into the ring and immediately sat down on the mat because he had ripped his quads. Watching Vince address Cena and Batista while on his butt was a surreal moment.
8 The Shockmaster
WCW had a lot of cringe-worthy, unforgiveable, awful moments, but few are as embarrassing as the debut of the Shockmaster. Looking back, it seems unfathomable that WCW would put stock in a burly man wearing a glittery Stormtrooper mask, but he was backed by Dustin Rhodes and Sting. To make his debut, he was set to appear at Clash of the Champions XXIV on Ric Flair’s show A Flair for the Gold.
His team introduced him, and the Shockmaster was supposed to break through a wall with some cool pyro. It would have looked dated today if it had gone off without a hitch, but it didn’t. Instead, after a small explosion, the Shockmaster came tumbling through the wall, losing his mask in the process. You can hear Ric Flair going, “I told ya” and “oh no.” It’s one of the most hilarious unscripted moments in wrestling history.
7 The Curtain Call at Madison Square Garden
In order to understand the importance of the Curtain Call, you have to grasp the significance WWE puts on kayfabe. The concept dictates that wrestlers pretend to be their character 24/7, even when the cameras aren’t rolling. You see it a lot today just as often as you see kayfabe being broken. In the mid-1990s, the Curtain Call was the greatest example of broken kayfabe that existed.
Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, beloved WWE stars, were leaving for WCW. After their last match at a Madison Square Garden house show, WWE wrestlers and real-life BFFs Triple H and Shawn Michaels came down to the ring to embrace their friends and see them off. WWE and WCW wrestlers being chummy with each other shattered kayfabe. Michaels was already a huge star, so the onus was on Triple H, who was punished for years and could have just as easily been a forgotten mid-carder instead of one of the biggest stars in wrestling history.
6 Droz Gets Paralyzed
If you watched WWE anytime from the end of the Attitude Era to today, you’ve seen those “do not try this at home” commercials. Yeah, they’re cheesy, but they have a point: accidents happen in wrestling all the time, even between the pros. Wrestlers get injured, their careers end, and sometimes they even die in the ring (more on that later). In the case of Darren Drozdov, also known as Droz, his career was cut tragically short when he got paralyzed.
The fateful event transpired in October 1999 on a dark match for SmackDown. Droz was fighting D’Lo Brown. As Brown went for his running powerbomb, he lost his grip on Droz’s mesh shirt and Droz slipped, landing wrong. It was an accident, so Brown wasn’t fired, but he was racked with guilt over the incident. Droz became a quadriplegic who has healed somewhat and has restored feeling in some of his upper body parts.
5 Jerry Lawler’s On-Screen Heart Attack
For years, Jerry Lawler has been the snarky, woman-obsessed off-colour commentator for WWE. He’s also been insistent on never letting you forget his storied days as a professional wrestler. His most recent in-ring match was in 2011 when he competed with Randy Orton to win against Dolph Ziggler and CM Punk. Given what transpired that same night, we seriously doubt that he’s ever going to lace up another pair of wrestling boots again.
Later that evening, during a Prime Time Players versus Team Hell No match, Lawler went quiet. Fans weren’t sure what was going on until it was announced that he had had a heart attack live on Raw. The doctors who performed on Lawler are credited with saving his life. He survived, took a few months off to recover, and was right back at the commentary table. For fans watching Raw that night, and for the crowd that was there live, this was a horrifying moment.
4 The Mass Transit Incident
Becoming a great professional wrestler takes years of experience, dedication, and training. That’s not to say that younger athletes can’t excel, but when you’re not even 18 years old and you have to lie about your age to get on a pro wrestling card, you’re not off to a good start. That’s exactly what Eric Kulas, more commonly known as Mass Transit, did in late 1996 to wrestle a house show for ECW. He was untrained and too young, and his vast inexperience was about to nearly get him killed.
Kulas competed in a tag team match against New Jack, a wrestler renowned for his hardcore violence. He bladed, or purposely cut open Kulas, but Jack accidentally went too far, slicing into arteries. The amount of blood that spurted from Mass Transit’s head that night is the stuff of legends. He didn’t die, but he was in huge trouble after Paul Heyman, ECW’s owner, found out that Kulas had been deceitful. That was the first and last match Kulas had, but his family did sue and nearly got an ECW Pay-Per-View, ironically called Barely Legal, nixed entirely.
3 The Montreal Screwjob
Honestly, you could write a book about the Montreal Screwjob (and there have been plenty of tomes published about wrestling that do discuss it) since it’s such a complicated animal. We’ll just explain it briefly: Bret Hart was the WWF Heavyweight Champion. He was jumping ship to WCW and everyone knew about it. Still, he didn’t want to give up his title. Vince McMahon, fearing Hart would leave for WCW with the WWF Heavyweight title, spoke to referee Earl Hebner to ensure that when Hart’s opponent Shawn Michaels (who was in on it), put on the Sharpshooter, that Hebner would call the match even though Hart didn’t tap so Hart would be forced to give up the title.
The repercussions were huge. Michaels and Hart despised each other for years. Hart had very bad blood with WWE for a long time. McMahon became a real life heel and later developed an on-screen role with the company. Some consider the Screwjob the early catalyst for the Attitude Era, since if Hart had been willing to give up his title at Survivor Series ’97, McMahon never would have had an on-screen role.
2 Mankind Falls Through the Cell
Is there anything Mick Foley won’t do? The man known as Cactus Jack, Dude Love, and Mankind has ripped his own body to shreds, lighting himself on fire, getting beaten to a pulp, and still getting back up for more. However, his infamous Hell in a Cell match with the Undertaker at King of the Ring 1998 had some twists and turns that both performers weren’t expecting.
Yes, it was planned for Undertaker to toss Foley from the cell to the floor below. Was he supposed to fly 22 feet? Maybe not. The match was slated to end there though. Foley got up and the two continued, even though you can see that Undertaker seems hesitant. As the competitors scale the top of the cell, Undertaker gives Foley a chokeslam that breaks the flimsy chain-link floor, sending Foley through the cell to the mat. That was not supposed to happen. Foley’s tooth was embedded into his nostril, his mouth was a bloody mess, and as he came to (he was knocked unconscious), it looked like he was smiling, creating a lasting image of arguably the most momentous match in WWE history.
1 Owen Hart’s Death
As mentioned above, accidents happen in wrestling all the time, sometimes fatal ones. Owen Hart was wrestling as his masked superhero alter ego the Blue Blazer at the time, and at Over the Edge in May 1999, he wanted his entrance to be especially theatrical and amusing, so he did what he’d done numerous times, and what other wrestlers (like Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker, to name a few) had also done without a hitch: he would grapple-line from the rafters down to the ring.
It’s unknown exactly what went wrong, and we’ll probably never know, but it’s believed that Hart activated the quick release too soon, which freed him of his harness. He toppled down 78 feet, narrowly missing a turnbuckle as his body collided with the ropes. He didn’t die on impact, but he did pass before the night was over from internal bleeding. While Over the Edge did proceed as scheduled (obviously minus Owen's match), the next night on Raw, WWE did a tribute to this wrestler who was lost too soon.