Professional wrestling has been around for a very long time. During the course of the business’ run there have been a lot of things that have changed. When something happens that changes the industry forever, it’s an impact moment.
Some of those moments are good and some are bad. But they undeniably changed the sport from that point forth. Probably the highest impact moment in professional wrestling that isn’t on this list is when Vince McMahon Sr. died. That allowed Vince McMahon Jr. to take over and he changed the business forever. He is the reason that wrestling isn’t considered a sport anymore and is instead, one of the biggest businesses in the world.
There have been many of these impact moments over the years. At the time that most of them happened, we didn’t realize that we were witnessing history and that things wouldn’t be the same again. On the other hand sometimes like with the Chris Benoit incident, we all knew things were never going to be the same.
So if you think you know wrestling in and out, or are a big fan of the industry, here are some of the moments that shaped it into what we know today. Enjoy!
10 Spike TV Joins Forces With TNA
Many people followed TNA wrestling simply because it wasn’t the WWE. After Vince McMahon Jr. put just about every other wrestling organization out of business, wrestling got kind of boring. No competition will have that effect on things. TNA had been trying to get established for three years and in 2005 they were still struggling for exposure. They tried several different avenues but just couldn’t seem to find the right fit for what they needed.
In late 2005 they were able to hook up with Spike TV and get the exposure that they needed. They had a weekly show and the company was able to use it to promote the lucrative pay-per-view events.
Spike TV has a part as one of the highest impact moments in wrestling because if they had not given TNA a chance there probably never would have been an alternative to the WWE. TNA opened the door for other smaller companies to follow in their footsteps. None of them will ever seriously challenge the WWE, but it’s nice to have alternatives.
9 WWE Pins WCW for ECW Title
This is an impact moment in wrestling history mainly because we probably won’t ever see anything like it again. When WCW was challenging WWE for ratings superiority there were always a lot of superstars changing rosters. Guys were constantly going back and forth and when ECW started to gain some notoriety it made things even more confusing.
So here’s what happened. Mike Awesome was the ECW Champion when he agreed to a contract to join up with WCW. He threatened to take the belt with him to his new company. Eventually he came to an agreement with ECW to lose the title before he left the company. So they chose Taz to defeat Awesome to become the new ECW Champion. The only problem was that Taz just signed up with WWE.
Vince McMahon graciously allowed Taz to perform in ECW to win their title back from Awesome, even though Taz was currently under contract with the WWE. Yes, McMahon actually did the right thing to help someone out once. As hard as that is to believe, it’s actually true. So there you have a WWE performer defeating a WCW performer for the ECW championship. Crazy right?
Nine days later Taz dropped the title to Tommy Dreamer so ECW could keep their belt within their company.
When you look for high impact moments in professional wrestling you are seeking out moments that changed the business. There are only a few other impact moments that can rank higher in that regard than WrestleMania. In 1985 at Madison Square Garden the business was changed forever with that one event.
Not only did WrestleMania open the door for pay-per-view events, but it was also the beginning of the “Super Bowl” of wrestling. From that point forth there has been a yearly event that capped off everything that had taken place over the previous year and it was available for the world to watch on PPV.
Every other company around took notice and started doing their own versions (WCW Starrcade, etc.) and today that’s the staple of the business. Every single company now has monthly PPVs and a yearly event. None of that would have been possible without that very first event.
Say what you want about Vince McMahon but this was his brainchild and in this case he changed the world of professional wrestling forever, in a positive way. He doesn’t make a lot of good decisions but he got this one right.
7 The Creation of NWO
In 1996, WCW was getting by as a competitor of WWE but they were missing something to put them over the top. When the NWA and AWA fell apart thanks to Vince McMahon, they got together to create the WCW. The only problem was that at first McMahon had stolen all of their best talent. It took them awhile to get going, but when they were able to secure Scott Hall and Kevin Nash things were looking up.
In 1996, Hulk Hogan turned bad guy and joined Hall and Nash to create the New World Order and the WCW exploded. The ratings explosion led to several other stars making a return to the company and suddenly the WWE was very worried about what was going on.
We all know what the end result was, but when the NWO was created and put WCW on the map as a major player, the wrestling world was changed from where it was heading. It forced WWE to rethink a lot of the things that they were doing and come up with another plan of attack to rule the world. Eventually they accomplished that but at that point WCW showed everyone that the WWE can indeed be challenged.
6 Hulk Hogan joins TNA
Love him or hate him Hulk Hogan is one of the biggest names in the history of professional wrestling. Wherever he goes he draws a crowd and he was a main part of WWE exploding across the world as it did in the late 80’s. His name lends credibility to anything that he partners up with even though he is well past his prime.
In 2010, TNA was able to benefit from that credibility for a while as they were able to land Hogan to their roster. He basically took over the company and all of a sudden the wrestling world was watching everything that TNA was doing.
In the end things didn’t work out how the company had hoped but it really didn’t matter. Everyone knew who TNA was and they were about as mainstream as they were going to get.
5 The Curtain Call
Madison Square Garden has been the scene for countless high impact moments in professional wrestling over the years. The Backlund-Snuka cage match, Hogan winning the WWF title for the first time and the very first WrestleMania are just a few of these.
But in 1996 it was the location of something that had never been seen before in the business. WWE was happy that it wasn’t a televised show, but it didn’t take long at all for the events to be discussed around the world anyway.
Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were leaving WWE for the WCW and this was their final match on the WWE roster. Shawn Michaels pinned Nash to end the match but that’s when the good stuff started happening. Hall came into the ring and gave Michaels a hug for all of the great matches that they had put on together. Then Triple H entered the ring and it turned into one giant hug fest right there in the middle of the ring. It was a sign of solidarity and respect among colleagues that had worked together for a long time. The four men all took a bow together for the crowd before they left the ring.
You know that when this was happening, somewhere in the world Vince McMahon was losing his mind. It was the first time that the scripts between good guys and bad guys had been thrown out the window. And what it did was ruin the legitimacy of several storylines that the WWE had going on at the time. Now good guys and bad guys had been seen together in public actually getting along. It impacted the sport for many years and it took a long time for the business to come around and embrace what had happened. In reality this could be the beginning of the move toward “entertainment” and no longer going to great lengths to try and prove that what happened in the ring was real.
4 ECW Screws Over the NWA
The NWA has a very rich history dating back a very long time. They brought the world the likes of Ric Flair, Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes, Sting and countless others. When the WWE started taking over the world, the NWA did everything they could to hold onto some kind of glory.
When the WCW broke away from the NWA in 1993 the title was vacant for over a year. It went from being one of the most recognized titles in the world with Ric Flair, to nothing more than a footnote.
NWA President Dennis Coraluzzo wanted to hook up with ECW, then known as NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling, to bring the NWA title back into the limelight. Shane Douglas was chosen to win an eight man tournament to become the new NWA Champion. But Coraluzzo had forgotten that he had crucified Douglas on a previous radio show saying that one time in the past he didn’t show up for an event. Douglas said that it never happened and he didn’t forget about it.
So Douglas, ECW owner Tod Gordon, and Paul Heyman came together on a plan to discard the NWA all together. They held the tournament and when Douglas was crowned the NWA Champion he took the mic and said
“I am not the man who accepts a torch to be handed down to me from an organization that died seven years ago. The Franchise, Shane Douglas, is the man who ignites the new flame of the sport of professional wrestling! I declare myself, The Franchise, as the new ECW Heavyweight Champion of the world!”
ECW then cut all ties to the NWA and rebranded the company as Extreme Championship Wrestling. Coraluzzo and the NWA looked like complete fools and the title never recovered.
Jax Dane is the current champion and the NWA has a card coming up on May 21st, 2016 at the American Legion Hall in Pensacola, Florida. Tickets are only ten bucks. As much as it pains me to say, it’s time for the NWA to let it go and put the title to rest.
3 The Montreal Screwjob
The Montreal Screwjob was one of the highest impact moments in the history of professional wrestling because Vince McMahon showed the world that he rules above all. It doesn’t matter what your name is or what you have done for the company or for how long. If Vince says something, it is law and nobody is off-limits from his wrath.
Everyone knows what happened that day. For those that don’t, the basics are that Bret Hart was the WWE Champion but he was leaving the company to join up with the WCW. He had offered to drop the WWE title before he left, but he didn’t want to do it in Canada and he didn’t want to lose to Shawn Michaels.
This wasn’t good enough for McMahon, who wanted it done immediately. That day in 1997 in Montreal, Hart was defending the title against Michaels. McMahon didn’t know if Michaels would play ball with him so he went right to the referee for the match, Earl Hebner. McMahon told Hebner to make sure that Hart lost the title in that match and that was final.
During the match Michaels should have been disqualified but he wasn’t. Then he put “The Sharpshooter” on Bret Hart. This was Hart’s own finishing move. Without giving it much thought Hebner declared the match over saying that Hart had submitted, even though he hadn’t. The title was awarded to Michaels and Hart went crazy. He went after McMahon both at ringside and backstage, as well as anyone that he thought might be involved with the incident.
2 Chris Benoit Murder/Suicide
We all know that wrestling is not real. But sometimes something happens that IS real. An event that’s real enough to become instant news around the world. When that happens, the results of the aftermath lead to some kind of changes down the road. That would be considered an impact on the business. Or even on society.
In June of 2007 Chris Benoit had missed two or three shows and the reason given was a “family emergency”. At the Vengeance pay-per-view he was still absent and missed his scheduled match against CM Punk for the ECW Championship. While it’s not unusual for an athlete to miss a show once in a while due to real life events, missing a pay per view title match is something else. It’s something to take notice of and that’s exactly what the wrestling world did.
The next night the WWE announced that Benoit and his family had been killed. They cancelled the scheduled show and did a three hour tribute to him. The next night, it was released that Benoit had killed his family and then committed suicide. Vince McMahon said that Benoit’s name would never be mentioned again. So far it hasn’t.
But there are questions about how much McMahon actually knew and for how long. During the tribute show William Regal ended his tribute segment by stating “And that’s all I’ve really got to say at the moment”. It was obvious that there was more to the story and Regal knew it.
As a result of the incident wrestling companies now take the time to gather all of the facts before making any kind of public statements on incidents. There was also another long hard look at steroid use in the business along with an in depth look at concussions that are suffered, similar to the scrutiny that the NFL has been under for a long time now.
It also caused more attention to the issue of domestic violence. Benoit and his wife had a long history of issues that were well documented in the courts and with local law enforcement. This one tragedy brought several issues of society back to the forefront of the news. But once again it took a tragedy involving a celebrity to take place to bring that attention that was needed.
As far as the wrestling business is concerned, the incident impacted the way and timing of how companies address issues with members of their rosters.
1 Owen Hart’s Death
Despite the fact that wrestling is fake there are still plenty of dangerous things that the wrestlers have to do. Every night the superstars put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of entertainment. During the late 90’s things were getting out of hand though.
At the time Sting was the king of the WCW and he would walk around the rafters of arenas and swoop down into the ring. Well the WWE couldn’t let that go unmatched so Owen Hart’s character “The Blue Blazer” was supposed to repel down into the ring from the arena rafters.
At Kemper Arena at the Over the Edge pay-per-view event Hart was supposed to make a memorable entrance into the ring. He was going to swoop down into the ring for his match from the arena rafters. His fall was to stop short of the ring and then he was going to release the harness and fall a couple of feet into the ring. It was supposed to funny. It ended up being anything but.
Owen didn’t want to jump from the arena rafters and his wife didn’t want him to do it either but once again, what Vince McMahon says goes. When Hart left the catwalk, 78 feet above the ring, his quick release trigger malfunctioned somehow and dropped him. He landed in the ring on the top turnbuckle. Some reports say he landed head first and some say chest first. Television cameras didn’t catch the fall so we may never know that fact. But it doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is that he died right there in the ring.
McMahon decided to continue on with the show. There were blood stains in the corner of the ring from where Hart had landed and every wrestler for the rest of the show had to look at them. Not to mention the cameras picked them up many times over the course of the rest of the show.
The tragic event was a wake-up call for professional wrestling. But make no mistake about it, there are still plenty of instances where athletes put their lives in danger. But coming into the ring from the arena rafters stopped happening after that. Sting stopped performing the move immediately. Several months later he resumed doing it, but only after he received the blessing from Bret Hart and his family. He also took several precautions for safety that weren't taken before.
There have also been plenty of times since then that the WWE hasn’t gone “on with the show” after the death of one of its superstars, in or out of the ring.
Sadly, like so many things in life, it took a serious tragedy to bring about change.