In the first part of this mega-sized Cageside Countdown (which you can read here), we covered some of the most important days in wrestling history, including the debut episodes of RAW and Smackdown, WWF being court-ordered to change their name to WWE, Ron Simmons winning the WCW title, and Magnum T.A.’s car accident that cut short a career on the rise.
Let’s not waste any time. Here’s Part 2 of...
the 50 most important days in wrestling history.
40. August 29, 1992: Summerslam crosses the ocean.
On August 29, 1992, a Big Four WWF PPV happened for the first—and to this day, only—time away from the confines of North America. London’s Wembley Stadium played host to Summerslam. Wasn’t supposed to be that way; in a 2013 Kayfabe Commentaries interview with Bret Hart, it was originally supposed to be in Washington, DC AND was supposed to feature the first ladder match in company history. Bret Hart said he was set to lose the Intercontinental title to Shawn Michaels, but when London got Summerslam, Hart suggested dropping the title to Bulldog in London instead. Despite Bulldog missing most of the summer due to a staph infection (and scary, scary drugs), the brothers-in-law put on an absolute classic in front of one of the largest audiences in wrestling history.
But as it turned out, it was the fourth match on the card (second if you watched the American version airing two days later) that would have a bigger effect on wrestling. Nailz defeated Virgil in a three-minute squash. Nailz, real name Kevin Wacholz, got $8,000 for three minutes work. Not bad money if you can get it. But not enough in Kevin’s world. In December, he got into a shouting match with Vince McMahon over said payout. The shouting match turned violent, with Wacholz choking McMahon while John Nord (aka The Berzerker) played lookout. Wacholz was immediately fired, and Nord was gone not long after.
In 1994, during McMahon’s steroid trial, Wacholz took the stand for the prosecution and torpedoed his own credibility—and the prosecution’s case—when he said of McMahon he hated his guts. Kevin came off as a bitter employee looking to get a piece of Vince, and their case fell apart. McMahon ultimately is acquitted in July 1994, and the rest as they say is history.
39. February 27, 2014: NXT arrives.
The WWE Network launched on February 24, 2014—to many, many problems (don’t worry, we’ll get to that), with the initial offering of (nearly) every WWF, WWE, WCW, and ECW ever broadcast. That was a hell of a hook. It was enough for over a half million people to part with $60 over six months.
But those who did part with their money got themselves a treat: a live Network-exclusive special featuring WWE’s much-vaunted, much-improved developmental roster. That special was NXT Arrival. For many, it was the first exposure to the new NXT. And the new NXT was pretty awesome.
While the old NXT featured the likes of Michael McGillicutty, Skip Sheffield, Johnny Curtis, and Maxine battle it out in obstacle course runs, WWE trivia, and sub-par matches, the new NXT was the culmination of a 18-month overhaul of their developmental system. To say that the new NXT has done wonders for WWE would be an understatement. Ten of the thirteen people that wrestled on the show would eventually find their way to the main roster.
Though there were technical difficulties for many viewers, by the time they got around to seeing it, they were amazed. It would also begin a trend that continues to this day: the developmental special outshining a main roster PPV that happened around the same time frame.
38. January 12, 1992: The Rockers break up.
In 1985, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty struck a friendship while wrestling for Central States Wrestling in Kansas City. They would win their tag titles together briefly before Michaels left to go back home to Texas. The next year, they were reunited in the American Wrestling Association, and reborn as The Midnight Rockers. The fun-loving party boys would chase the AWA tag titles for most of 1986 before finally winning them in January 1987. But seeing the writing on the wall, they decided to join the WWF.
They would not stick around long as the duo lived the gimmick a little too much. They would find success in the AWA and the Continental Wrestling Association before returning slightly more behaved in the WWF in 1988. Though they would be one of the Federation’s most popular teams, the duo never won the tag titles. (Ok, there’s that one time that they did, but the top rope broke and the match that resulted was so screwed up, it was never used for television, so in WWE canon the Rockers never won the titles. So there.)
Eventually dissension creeped in (both behind the scenes and on camera, though played out in very different ways), and the BFFs were not long for this world as a team. On December 2, 1991 (but not airing until more than a month later), in a Barber Shop segment, the warring BFFs seemed to have patched everything up.
And then Shawn kicked Marty in the jaw.
Then, depending on your perspective, Shawn sent Marty head first into the set’s glass window or Marty fruitlessly tried to escape a further beating by diving through the glass. Either way, when Shawn ripped up a WWF magazine with the Rockers as its centerfold, then holding up his half, the message was clear: the Rockers were history.
Marty for what its worth went on to a modest career despite fired twice by the WWF in a 13-month span. He went on to become an Intercontinental champion in May 1993 and had a brief tag title run in 1994.
Shawn, on the other hand, went on to one of the greatest singles careers in wrestling history: four-time world champion, the first WWF Grand Slam champion ever, twice Royal Rumble winner, WWE Hall of Famer, and in a 2011 poll, the greatest wrestler ever.
37. September 21, 1933: The birth of a Mexican wrestling enterprise.
Though the roots of wrestling in Mexico date back to the 1860s during the French Intervention, it wasn’t until 1933 when Salvador Lutteroth Gonzalez brought the sport to a national scale. Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (EMLL), translated to the Mexican Wrestling Enterprise, was born on September 21.
His EMLL became the dominant wrestling promotion in Mexico and was the most powerful man in Mexican wrestling. His promotion birthed such legends as Mil Mascaras, Gory Guerrero, Blue Demon, and El Santo, who in Mexico wasn’t just a legend and mainstream star, he’s a folk hero. The luchador battles featured quick pacing, high-risk maneuvers, and a workrate not seen among American audiences.
Despite a ban on wrestling being televised in Mexico City, their weekly bouts continued to sell well. Though EMLL, known today as Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL), or World Wrestling Council, has broken off twice (the Universal Wrestling Association in 1975, and AAA in 1992—which drove UWA out of business), it remains the oldest surviving promotion in the world. Though the maneuvers are dazzling, most everything else is taken with a slow, steady, conservative approach, leading to CMLL’s long-term success.
36. November 25, 1985: The Manhattan Screwjob.
Thanks to the “Rock ‘n Wrestling Connection”, Wendi Richter became the most popular women’s wrestler in the country. It could be argued that in terms of star power, she was probably as big as Hulk Hogan. Ok, maybe it’s a stretch, but she was a pretty big deal in her prime. Unfortunately, her paychecks didn’t quite reflect that, as midcarders were enjoying bigger paydays than Richter (in fact, Richter once said her biggest payday with the WWF was just $5,000).
Richter obviously wanted a raise, but the WWF stalled and stalled and stalled. Not helping matters is Richter and the Fabulous Moolah, who took a cut of her pay regularly until Vince started paying Wendi directly, didn’t like each other. Eventually, McMahon had to make a choice: Moolah, who had both seniority and loyalty on her side, or Richter, who had youth (she was 24) and marketing potential on hers. When Wendi wanted more time before signing a new deal she was presented, the choice was made.
On November 25, 1985 in Madison Square Garden, the masked Spider Lady shot on Richter and eventually got the pin, even though Richter clearly kicked out. The Spider Lady—who unmasked by Richter as the Fabulous Moolah—had regained the title at age 62.
The fallout is immediate: Wendi, upset by what transpired, grabbed her gear, hailed a cab, and walked out on the WWF for good. She’d wrestle for three more years before disappearing from the spotlight entirely. Richter and Moolah never spoke again, while it was nearly a quarter century before she and McMahon smoothed it over when she was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
In choosing his loyalty to the past, McMahon had, perhaps unknowingly, set back women’s wrestling once again. It’s a hole the genre’s still digging out of 30 years later.
35. December 18, 1995: Madusa trashes the WWF Women’s Championship.
Speaking of women’s wrestling, Madusa was one of the few women that got over in spite of Moolah’s iron grip on women’s wrestling in the country? How so? Well, one, she went to Japan. Two, she proved to be pretty badass in WCW. Three, she proved to be pretty badass in the WWF. The division in the mid-1990s was built around Madusa, who used the ring name Alundra Blayze. She would win the WWF Women’s Championship three times over that span, defeating the likes of Bull Nakano, Rhonda Sing (as the trailer trash Bertha Faye) and Lelani Kai (because reasons, I guess).
But with the WWF bleeding money thanks to a federal drug trial, WWF Champion Diesel, and a general dip in popularity, the women’s division was seen as expendable, and they were all let go in one fell swoop. That included Alundra Blayze... who at the time was the WWF Women’s Champion. One would think to get that belt before she went off to another organization with it...
On December 18, 1995, Madusa crashed WCW Monday Nitro with her WWF Women’s Championship. Then she pulled a nearby trash bin on the announce desk. She showed the belt, and dropped it in. It was to say the least a disrespectful act for a championship belt, no less a championship belt she made somewhat credible. But she didn’t have a choice in the matter. On orders of Eric Bischoff, she had to plop the belt in the garbage or not have a job. She knew in the back of her mind that she had essentially burned her bridge with the WWF, and she was right.
She would never be the star she was in the WWF, or for that matter the star she was during her first WCW run. Barely wrestling at all combined with being reduced to love interest and sex object for most of her final days led her to leaving the wrestling business altogether in 2001 and turning to driving monster trucks.
34. November 13, 2005: The death of Eddie Guerrero.
Not since the tragic passing of Owen Hart in 1999 was the wrestling world so shook up by one of their own passing away. Owen was a rare breed, beloved by fans and peers alike. And the fact that he died while a PPV was in progress hurt that much more.
The same could pretty much be said for Eddie Guerrero. Not content to coast on his name, Eddie had succeeded everywhere he’s been, winning championships and tournaments in Japan, Mexico, Australia, ECW, WCW, and WWE. Fans loved them some “Latino Heat” and peers loved him for his crisp in-ring work.
Unfortunately, some of the prime of his wrestling life was cut down due to alcoholic and drug addiction, stemming from a car accident on New Year’s Day 1999. Eventually, Guerrero would recover and go on one of the greatest runs in wrestling history, winning the Intercontinental, United States, Tag Team, and WWE Championships from his return in 2002 to 2004. To say that he had the heart of a champion would be an understatement.
That’s what made his passing on November 13, 2005 so depressing. The years of drug and alcohol abuse combined with the constant push to stay in peak physical condition was simply too much. Eddie Guerrero’s heart had failed him in a hotel room in Minneapolis, with him possibly on the verge of a second run as WWE Champion. Bringing the sad tale full circle: Guerrero was just 38.
There’s simply no way to spin this: Eddie’s passing was a huge loss for the wrestling world, leaving a hole that can never be filled.
33. May 28, 2000: The beginnings of a great voyage.
In January 1999, All Japan Pro Wrestling founder Shohei “Giant” Baba passed away after bout with cancer. To say this was a big loss would not only be an understatement, it would not do the man justice.
Shortly thereafter, Mitsuharu Misawa was handed a most thankless task: lead All Japan into the 21st century—and keep its most profitable era going. Look, anyone chosen to succeed the legendary Giant Baba was going to have a hard time, but if anyone could pull it off, it’s the most popular of the Four Pillars.
Between Misawa being the public face of the company and Giant Baba’s widow Motoko being the money and the business, it should have been a match made in heaven and led to even greater heights for the promotion. Except... that’s not what happened.
Baba and Misawa fought over pretty much everything for the entire time. Misawa wanted to cast a wider net and even co-promote with New Japan Pro Wrestling, something they hadn’t done in years, while Baba wanted to stay the course and emphasize the native talent they had.
Eventually, the world’s longest staring contest (maybe) came to an end on May 28, 2000, when by a majority vote of shareholders and board members, Mitsuharu Misawa was relieved of his post as All Japan Pro Wrestling president. That vote set off a firestorm that the company wasn’t nearly prepared for.
Three weeks later at their regularly scheduled board meeting, Misawa resigned from the company. Five members of the board also resigned in solidarity. In the days that followed, all but four contracted wrestlers of their roster quit. As did nearly all their referees. And 12 office workers. Basically, nearly an entire company decided that working for Tiger Mask II was a better option than working for the widow of Giant Baba. Motoko was THAT hated among the locker room.
Despite that, Motoko had an 85% stake in the company, but it’s the 15% that she didn’t own that contributed to All Japan’s demise as a superpower. That 15% was owned by their TV partner Nippon TV, and when nearly their entire company walked on Baba, so did their TV deal. Nippon decided to broadcast Misawa’s new project, Pro Wrestling Noah. Since Nippon had veto power over any TV deals, All Japan couldn’t go elsewhere.
Though they would somehow recover from their second company mutiny (the first occurring in 1990 when Genichiro Tenryu—ironically brought back following the second one—led a small roster mutiny to join Super World of Sports) and become a viable company again, a third (yes, THIRD) mutiny in 2013 led by Keiji Mutoh drove All Japan in to the red for the first time ever and doomed the promotion to distant third-place status.
Who knew one vote could have such a butterfly effect on all of Japanese wrestling?
32. March 29, 1987: Wrestlemania III.
When preliminary plans were made for Wrestlemania III, officials imagined maybe forty or fifty thousand people would be at the Pontiac Silverdome, home to the NFL’s Detroit Lions (until 2001). Vince McMahon had bigger dreams: the whole building. Filled to the rafters with WWF fans from both sides of the US-Canadian border, but he needed a big match to sell out the whole gym.
That big match was Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant. The matchup, which (dirty little secret: it was done seven years prior at Shea Stadium) featured the undefeated (though not really) biggest special attraction in wrestling history versus the new face of sports entertainment, was enough to drive ticket sales through the roof. It also helped that the WWF more than just a wrestling promotion by early 1987; it was a pop-culture phenomenon.
And by the time the show ended, the crowd of 93,173 (which may or may not be the real number) got what was probably the greatest show in company history. Here’s what ya got:
- Bob Uecker’s relentless pursuit of Mary Hart
- King Kong Bundy squashing a midget
- Roddy Piper winning his retirement match
- The birth of Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake
- Alice Cooper running off Jimmy Hart
- Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat winning the Intercontinental title in one of the greatest matches in wrestling history
- Hulk Hogan bodyslamming Andre the Giant
So many memorable moments on one show. It’s crazy. There are PPVs that don’t have half as many memorable moments as Wrestlemania III. With all due respect to the first Clash of the Champions and Starrcade ‘85, Wrestlemania III was THE wrestling show of the 1980s, and the one that validated the WWF’s national expansion plan. Next stop: the world.
31. January 23, 1984: Hulkamania is born.
And, if we’re being honest, Wrestlemania III wouldn’t have nearly been as big a deal if it weren’t for Monday, January 23, 1984.
On that day, Hogan, substituting for an “ill” Bob Backlund, would face and defeat the Iron Sheik for the WWF Championship. Quite the interesting story of how it came to this point.
With the success of Rocky III, Hulk Hogan, who had left the WWF to appear in the movie, was on the verge of being a major crossover star. However, Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association wanted to have their cake and eat it too: they wanted to make Hogan a star, but not THE star. The AWA faithful were starving for anything different from the Gagne-Nick Bockwinkel carousel and the other aging stars of the promotion. Hogan being the physical manifestation of what wrestling was set to become didn’t quite sit well with Gagne, and by the fall of 1983, he took his ball and went home.
When Hulk returned to the WWF in December 1983, Vince McMahon had stumbled on an idea: Hogan was going to be the face of the new WWF. A flashier WWF. A more colorful WWF. A more family-friendly WWF. Small problem: Bob Backlund, who was WWF champion for five years, wasn’t going to lose to Hogan. He didn’t have a legitimate wrestling background. And with a heel turn also out of the question, the pass needed a middleman.
Enter the Iron Sheik, who had a legit wrestling background. Sheik defeated Backlund when Bob’s longtime manager Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel for the title. One month later, Sheik had Hogan in the same camel clutch that won him the title. Hogan would power out, make a comeback, drop a leg, and the rest as they say, is history. “Hulkamania is here!”
Hogan would last four years as WWF Champion. Sure he only got a little over halfway to Bruno Sammartino, but by the time his run ended, the WWF—and wrestling in general—was a lot different. The WWF would be the lead dog in the industry, with the rest of the territories in the country forced to catch up or go out of business. The surviving ones banded together to combat the Hulkamania empire, but by the end of the decade, the “largest arms in the world” not only defeated many of the WWF’s best and baddest; it beat most every other promotion in the country into submission.
Two parts down, three to go. Look for part three in one week’s time.