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Cageside Countdown: The 50 Most Important Days in Wrestling History (Part 3)


It seems we’re upon the verge of history once again. This Sunday, Charlotte and Sasha Banks will participate in the first ever women’s Hell in a Cell match in WWE history. Whether or not they’ve “earned the right” or this is little more than a public relations ploy depends on your viewpoint, but it will be quite some time before we know how history will treat October 30, 2016.

In case you’re just jumping into this countdown, a quick story: originally when I opened the nomination thread, TNA’s future was in doubt and was on the verge of being sold or shut down. If it were to have come to pass (and it still might, by the way), it would go down as one of the most important days in wrestling history.

So I pitched to you the Cageside Galaxy what was the most important day in wrestling history. You came up with so many, I had to do a countdown that went far beyond the usual 10 or 25. So I went with 50. But I know that doing a countdown of 50 on one post would require lots of reading, so I split it up.

Part 1’s right here, and that covers the debuts of WWE’s flagship shows, Ron Simmons winning the WCW world title, and “Bret Screwed Bret”. Part 2’s right here, covering Wrestlemania III, Summerslam 1992, the Rockers’ infamous breakup, and the death of Eddie Guerrero.

Now that you’re caught up, it’s on to part 3 of...

the 50 most important days in wrestling history.

Remember, this was decided by a community-wide vote.

30. June 28, 1998: The falls of Mankind.

The 1998 King of the Ring tournament was shaping up to be quite the night: the final four of the annual tournament, of course, Stone Cold versus Kane in a first blood WWF title match which will see Kane get burned alive if he loses, and the first Hell in a Cell match on PPV since In Your House: Bad Blood a few months prior.

It’s the Hell in a Cell match that everyone remembers, and by the Hell in a Cell match, I mean what happened less than two minutes into the match. For the one or two that need a refresher for some reason, here ya go.

Mankind, who was in an on-and-off feud with the Undertaker since his WWF debut in 1996, decided to start the Hell in a Cell match armed with a chair and ON TOP OF THE CELL. It should be established that Mankind is kind of a crazy person. Undertaker comes out next and he too climbs the cell. Mankind’s plan was to punch the Deadman off before he could make it, but the plan fails.

Plan B: use the chair. Mankind got a couple shots in, but Undertaker gets the chair from Mankind. He staggers him near the edge of the cage, and Undertaker saw an opening. And he threw him off. No big buildup, just toss him off, and let gravity take care of the rest.

The rest being a 16-foot fall onto a waiting Spanish announce table that Mankind nearly missed (you know, because gravity). “GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY! GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY! THAT KILLED HIM!” screamed Jim Ross just a second after impact. “AS GOD AS MY WITNESS, HE IS BROKEN IN HALF!”

As officials and medical personnel scrambled to tend to Mick Foley, the home and in-building audience was left to wonder did they just witness a death on a wrestling PPV. Thankfully, they did not, as Foley (aka Mankind, crazy person) not only got off the stretcher he was on, he climbed back the cage. Undertaker climbed back up too. The second trip wasn’t much better.

Less than a minute later, Undertaker chokeslammed Mankind on the cell... and then gravity took over again. Mankind went through the cell, crashing some 12 feet to the canvas. And the chair came he brought to the match came down with him. On his face. “GOOD GOD! GOOD GOD!” an incredulous Ross bellowed. “That’s it, he’s dead”, a very concerned sounding Lawler replied. “WILL SOMEBODY STOP THE DAMN MATCH? ENOUGH’S ENOUGH!”

Once again, medical personnel rushed to the aid of Foley, including longtime friend (and the guy that came up with the idea for the fall—the first one) Terry Funk. Funk was chokeslammed. Mankind eventually mounts a comeback and tries to make a match out of it, but it’s not to be. Undertaker wins following a backdrop onto thumbtacks, a chokeslam onto thumbtacks, and a tombstone.

Both men would suffer numerous injuries in the bout, with Foley easily getting the worst of it (dislocated shoulder, dislocated jaw, concussion, one and a half missing teeth, 14 stitches to close a cut below his lip). They would receive standing ovations from the 17,000+ on hand and surely from millions of fans around the world since. It may not be the greatest bout in wrestling history, but it is one of the most memorable. People will be talking about the semi-main event of King of the Ring 1998 for a very long time.

29. July 27, 1969: Paul Levesque is born.

Ok, this is probably tongue-in-cheek, but the man once derided for burying one career after another and only marrying the boss’ daughter to move up in the business (yes, there’s a portion of the wrestling fandom that actually believes this) may be the man that leads it to its future. Or back to its roots. Or... something.

The man also known as Triple H is a true student of the game, training under Killer Kowalski and studying the business inside and out and befriended some of the business’ best politicians in Shawn Michaels and Kevin Nash.

During the second half of the Attitude Era, Levesque became the perfect foil for The Rock and Steve Austin when the Austin-McMahon feud ended, and was at one point probably the best wrestler on the planet. It was soon after he returned from a quad injury in 2002 that the Internet backlash against Paul began.

He dated—then married—Vince McMahon’s daughter Stephanie, perceived to have stifled many careers, and kept himself in the spotlight long after his peers stepped aside for younger talent or left the company.

After his full-time wrestling days came to an end in 2010, Paul took on an office role with the company, first supervising live events, then rebuilding WWE’s developmental system with NXT and a fully-operational wrestling facility known as the WWE Performance Center.

Since then, Paul has populated WWE with some of the best domestic and international talent the industry has to offer, and if your favorite isn’t in WWE yet, don’t worry. He probably will be soon enough. I mean, if Paul can talk staunch WWE critics Bruno Sammartino and the late Ultimate Warrior back into the fold, anything’s possible.

28. December 28, 1997: Starrcade 1997: the celebration of WCW that wasn’t.

Predating Wrestlemania by about 15 months, Starrcade was the annual big supercard for Jim Crockett Promotions, and by extension, the National Wrestling Alliance. When JCP became WCW, the Starrcade tradition remained, though in some years, it didn’t quite feel like “The Granddaddy of Them All” (looking at you, 1991, 1992, and 1995).

But 1997’s edition had no ambiguity: WCW were going all out to make their version of Wrestlemania a pretty big deal. The show was main-evented by a Hollywood Hulk Hogan versus Sting match that had been brewing for more than a year. If everything had broken their way, Starrcade ‘97 would basically be the WWF killer.

Except... yeah. About that... it wasn’t.

The subdued look and feel of the show (black was the dominant color of attire on the show), heel acts going over in most every match (in fact, Diamond Dallas Page is the only face to win clean on the show), and in what can only be described as being intercepted in the end zone with the Super Bowl on the line, Sting (you know, the avenger of WCW) defeating Hogan only after he got a do-over from Bret Hart because referee Nick Patrick screwed up a fast count.

There’s been some hand-wringing on how the show’s main event should have gone (some opted for a near or absolute squash a la Brock Lesnar over John Cena at Summerslam 2014, while others suggest a competitive match wrapped up by a comeback and victory). But most are in agreement on two things: (1) there should be no ambiguity that Sting won and Hogan lost, and (2) just about anything would have been better than what we got.

And forget trying to cover this little error; a record audience for WCW watched the trainwreck, meaning a record WCW audience watched the company of Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, and Dusty Rhodes kinda sorta throw Sting a bone but give their big star Hulk Hogan just as big a bone just to keep him happy. What should have been a celebration and a new dawn for WCW was instead the beginning of a slow walk down the green mile.

27. July 15, 1948: The National Wrestling Alliance is born.

Throughout the first half of 1948, a group of wrestling promoters got together for a series of high-level meetings. It was one early in the second half of that year in Waterloo, Iowa (population 68,400) that changed the course of the industry.

At that meeting, Paul “Pinkie” George came up with the idea of consolidating all the world championships into one, because seriously, why are there all these world titles. Even better, if there was a coalition of bookers and agents and promoters sharing wrestlers freely and said wrestlers being able to travel from one area of the country to another without any problems, the business would be better off.

George, who was a promoter in the Midwest, used his name of his promotion, the National Wrestling Alliance, as the name of this coalition. It was the first national governing body for professional wrestling. Paul along with five other promoters, Al Haft, Tony Stretcher, Harry Light, Orville Brown, and Sam Muchnick, picked Brown as its inaugural champion, but Brown barely had the chance to enjoy it.

In November 1949, Brown was in an auto accident and suffered career-ending injuries. Later that month, the title was awarded to Lou Thesz, who would spend most of the next seven years unifying the many world titles floating around the territories.

The NWA lived mostly in harmony, but an antitrust lawsuit in 1956 and promoters such as Eddie Quinn, Verne Gagne, and Vincent J. McMahon all broke away from the group, with the latter two going on to form the AWA and WWWF (known today as WWE). The dominos only fell faster in the 1980s with the WWF’s national expansion and top international promotions All Japan Pro Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre all broke away.

The group still lives, of course, largely as a collection of small independents. But their power as the governing body of professional wrestling has long since evaporated.

26. April 1, 2001: Wrestlemania X-Seven and the end of Attitude.

Simply put, one of the greatest shows in wrestling history. Ah, ah, don’t. Don’t even look at me like that. You know I’m right.

Wrestlemania X-Seven a month before the show was heading for something of a classic with the second Rock vs. Stone Cold main event in three years and both men as hot as ever (and the company for that matter). But the show took on a whole new meaning when just a week before the “Showcase of the Immortals”, WWF had bought out WCW (don’t worry, kiddos. We’ll get to that one.), and with ECW having been radio silent for months, that left WWF as the only major fed in the country.

Then you get to the show itself. Though it starts off with a trio of solid, if not spectacular bouts (and a six-man tag with Right to Censor being one of the teams), what follows is probably the best three-hour block WWE has put on in a long time. Maybe ever. Angle-Benoit, Chyna finally giving her comeuppance to Ivory, Shane McMahon avenging his mother for everything his father Vince did to her, TLC II, GIMMICK BATTLE ROYAL, Triple H-Undertaker I (the one WWE wants you to forget about for some reason), Austin-Rock II.

And topping off that dream (your favorite ice cream) sundae: a big ole pile of poo: Steve Austin shaking hands with his archrival Mr. McMahon. That surely turned more than a few stomachs. After all, the two had been bitter enemies for more than three years. Like Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton bitter, but without all the creepy overtones and such. Sure the heel turn gave new life to the Austin character, but nobody really wanted to root against the man that was partially responsible for the rebirth of pro wrestling as pop culture phenomenon. He’s just too damn entertaining and good at his craft.

That handshake was for all intents and purposes the end of the Attitude Era—the last golden age in the industry. In the span of ten days, Vince McMahon’s two wrestling rivals were under his control: WCW and Steve Austin. And by the end of the year, he would ruin both of them.

25. January 24, 2016: WWE gets Style.

In 2002, WWE wanted to sign AJ Styles. He was a pretty solid talent with a huge upside, as his latter days in WCW that you didn’t watch showed (it’s okay. Hardly anyone watched WCW’s final days). But with AJ’s wife in college at the time, he didn’t want to sacrifice her happiness for his.

From there, AJ toiled through the independent circuit for a bit, but most notably, he went to upstart promotion TNA and would become an immediate player, winning all three of their titles (NWA world and tag and the TNA X-Division) within the first year. While Styles would go on to become one of the promotion’s most prolific champions, he was never truly seen as the focal point of the company. If it wasn’t Jeff Jarrett, it was Kurt Angle or Christian or Hulk Hogan or whatever ex-WWF, WWE, or WCW guy that came through their doors.

With TNA scaling back its budget in 2013, sacrifices had to be made, but AJ wasn’t going to take a paycut. After some intense negotiating, Styles bet on himself. He left TNA for New Japan Pro Wrestling. And just as he did in TNA, he became an immediate player, winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in his debut match. He would win it again the next year and would continue to dazzle Japanese—and American (when he wrestled a time or three for Ring of Honor) audiences.

But tricky little thing about New Japan’s contracts: they’re all for one year, and they all come up on January 4. This leaves the promotion vulnerable to big stars leaving when their big yearly show, Wrestle Kingdom, ends. Soon after WK10, Styles (after catching a beatdown by his former Bullet Club mates) was a free agent. Would he really rejoin TNA? Well, that was the plan. A deal was in place, but it wasn’t finalized, leaving the door open for...

this. I. Am. Phenomenal.

And the crazy, crazy pop he got as Styles entered as the third entrant in the 2016 Royal Rumble. It wasn’t possible. Not just not even remotely possible. Not at all possible. If you’re Allen Jones Styles, impossible is nothing.

Unless he’s trying to beat James Ellsworth. That’s impossible.

24. November 18, 2012: The Shield debuts.

If you’re even a casual viewer of WWE in recent years, you realized that around this time, the company was very much lacking in star power. Fans were tired of what was in front of them, and the ones that were supposedly on the horizon were either stifled by management or seen as not good enough by the masses.

But in November 2012, we were sent an answer from above... or... something. During the conclusion of a triple threat WWE Championship match, three men rushed through the crowd and put a beating on Ryback before sending him through the announce table. The three men: Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and the first ever NXT Champion Seth Rollins.

Together, they were known as The Shield, a trio of mercenaries who vowed to fight the perceived injustices of WWE. And help CM Punk mostly, because why not? Even if they lied about their involvement with Punk, they’ve done quite a bit in their career. Want a list? Sure you do.

  • 6 WWE Championship reigns
  • 2 Intercontinental Championships
  • 3 United States Championships
  • Tag Team Championship
  • 2 MITB briefcases
  • Royal Rumble Winner (Reigns)
  • Beat Evolution in 2 straight PPVs
  • All fought against Brock Lesnar at one point in singles competition
  • The Shield as a group is 2-0 at Wrestlemania
  • They have all held the US Championship in the past 4 years (Ambrose in 2013 & 2014, Rollins in 2015 and Reigns in 2016)
  • Was each WWE champion in the span of 15 minutes in one night
  • Ambrose has the record for longest US championship reign (351 days)
  • Reigns has the record for most eliminations in a single Royal Rumble (12)
  • Rollins has the record for longest world title reign following a Money in the Bank cash-in (220 days)
  • 31 consecutive WWE World Championship matches involving at least one member of the Shield

To say the WWE would look different without the Hounds of Justice would be an understatement. In fact, you can safely say that without the Shield, a lot of the last nearly four years would cease to exist.

23. August 9, 1999: RAW is Jericho, and Hulk Hogan is reborn.

To quote the beginning of the Review-A-Wai of Heroes of Wrestling, the year was 1999, a time when wrestling was surging in popularity. WWF was on fire, WCW was literally on fire, and ECW was putting people on fire.

In WCW around that time, unless you had past WWF credentials, your chances of moving up the card was slim. Chris Jericho, despite being quite entertaining and solid in the ring, not only didn’t see the main event, he barely reached the upper midcard. He was basically a “vanilla midget” in the eyes of WCW management, and barring a complete roster turnover, Jericho was never going to be a main-eventer. Yet, WCW wanted to keep him around. In April 1999, Chris gave his 90-day notice, and just over two months later, signed with the WWF.

A countdown built to just after 10pm ET on August 9 when “The Millennium Man” debuted himself in a WWF ring. I know this is going to sound like WWE bias, but Jericho in those few moments was a bigger star than he was in three years with WCW. After all, when in your first act, you get The Rock staring daggers at you, they must think pretty highly of you.

Over in WCW, they went back in time: what is old is new again. After three years as Hollywood Hogan, the villainous leader of the New World Order, Hulk Hogan donned his classic red and yellow attire. While many were happy that he ditched the black garb, it did little to change WCW’s fortunes... or its perception. But at least we didn’t have to deal with the spray-painted beard anymore.


22. March 26, 2001: The end of the Monday Night War.

You’re doing this again, Eddie Mac, you’re asking probably.

Yes, I’m doing this again because you voted for it.

On March 23, 2001, WWF bought WCW (Oh, don’t worry. We’ll get to that one.) for what was pretty much couch change. I mean, couch change compared to what the company was worth at the time. Just... just go with it, okay?

For a lot of wrestling fans, this didn’t sink in until three days later when WCW Monday Nitro opened with Vince McMahon. Wait... what? And there was Vince telling us the news we already know: he indeed bought WCW. This wasn’t a storyline (not yet); this was a shoot. The company that nearly drove the WWF to the ground was in the ground itself, and McMahon was going to spend the last evening of their existence pissing on the grave.

There were as many matches on the final Nitro as there were appearances by McMahon on said final Nitro (seven each). Only the opener and the main event go longer than five minutes, and the opener barely crossed the five-minute mark. After most every match, they cut away so fast, you thought Vince Russo was booking the show. And the final image of Nitro was a thirty-second ad for Wrestlemania.

But before that final ad, Vince got in a few last digs: he announced he intended to bury WCW (which is exactly what happened), he fired Jeff Jarrett on the air, and Shane McMahon announced that he had bought the company (in storyline, obviously) from under his father’s nose.

WWF took every opportunity under the sun six days before Wrestlemania to brag that their side won and WCW lost, and who could blame them? WCW once declared WWF dead just before Starrcade ‘97.

Then WWF rubbed their noses in it with one of the greatest shows ever. Of course they did.

21. November 11, 1947: Gorgeous George’s television debut.

By the time “Gorgeous” George Wagner made his television debut for the weekly wrestling show out of Los Angeles on Veteran’s Day 1947, the soon-to-be 32 year-old had perfected his act: he was flamboyant, he had a valet, he gave away gold “Georgie” pins, he was dressed to the nines, he would have rose petals and the whiff of Chanel No. 10 at his feet (seriously, why be half safe?). He would chide referees for even so much as laying a finger on him. And when the match began, he would do whatever that was necessary to win, including biting, fish-hooking, gouging, and low-blowing.

And yet, people couldn’t get enough of “The Human Orchid”. So what if he was so flamboyant he could have been mistaken for a homosexual (something that was still punishable by death in some parts of the country in his day)? The dude could not only go in the ring, but he could entertain like few others. He may have not been the first heel in wrestling history, but he certainly was the first made-for-television wrestling villain.

Gorgeous George and television were a perfect marriage: his matches were a hit with home audiences, and his bouts commanded crowds so large, he was banking over $100,000 a year in his prime, far more than the top athletes in other sports at the time—and most any entertainer for that matter.

Such an inspiration was Gorgeous George, athletes and entertainers of all persuasions and generations, from James Brown and Muhammad Ali to Liberace and Ric Flair since have cited him as an influence in their act. People will argue about who moved the most wrestling tickets in their lifetime. In the early days of television, no one person drove people more people to get one themselves than Gorgeous George.

Three parts in the can. Part 4 coming soon, hopefully before the election.

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