Anything can happen in the world of pro wrestling, and that’s just talking about the scripted action. When you add in the element of live television (or being part of an arena crowd), the potential for something unplanned is even higher. And no matter how careful the WWE (or other promotions) are, sometimes things go wrong in the middle of their shows, for a number of different reasons. It could be an injury that changes the path of an entire storyline, a performer going rogue, or some other unforeseen disaster.
Most of these unscripted moments happened in the WWF/WWE, although we do venture into ECW, WCW, and even TNA briefly. Combined, they form a mighty list of some of the most shocking, tragic, dangerous, or memorable moments in pro wrestling history.
Daniel Puder Shoots on Kurt Angle
Before Angle left the WWE in 2006, he had a gimmick called the Angle Invitational, an open challenge to anyone in the back who wanted to take a shot at him. It was meant to make him look strong, but on a 2004 episode of SmackDown, it almost ended up breaking his arm.
A young prospect by the name of Daniel Puder answered the Angle Invitational challenge that night. He had some MMA training under his belt, and apparently thought it would be a good idea to give Angle a legit shootfight. He quickly slapped an unsuspecting Angle in a Kimura submission hold, putting the Olympic Hero in a tough spot. He couldn’t tap to this nobody on live television, but he faced the real danger of having his arm snapped if he didn’t. As the two wrestled on the ground, the quick-thinking referee counted a somewhat bogus three-count against Puder, awarding Angle the pinfall victory. Puder would still win Tough Enough, but was quickly buried and released from the WWE shortly afterwards.
Undertaker Gets Set on Fire
The Undertaker has one of the most iconic ring entrances in pro wrestling history (we’re going to ignore the Limp Bizkit/Kid Rock motorcycle era, though). His “Funeral March” entrance, which often included black lights, smoke, torches, lightning, pyro, hooded druids, or some combination of those things, is something that no wrestling fan will soon forget.
However, at the 2010 Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, a mistake during his entrance resulted in the Dead Man being engulfed by a giant fire ball. He ripped off his jacket and uncharacteristically rushed to the ring, where referees doused him in water throughout the match (he had to wait to enter the ring, due to the Elimination Chamber gimmick). He suffered burns to his face and chest, and was reportedly furious with the pyrotechnics team after the event.
Brawl For All Tournament
Man, in hindsight this was such a terrible idea. For some reason, the WWE thought that they needed to add some realism to their (admittedly fake) product. The solution, apparently, was to have a legit fighting competition among WWE superstars that they affectionately called Brawl For All. The plan was for Dr. Death Steve Williams to get a big push after the tournament, since the company expected him to win it. Unfortunately, no one told Bart Gunn, who knocked out Williams in the second round.
Gunn would go on to win the tournament, which resulted in legit injuries to Steve Blackman, Hawk, and Savio Vega. The WWE scrambled, and hired legit toughman fighter Butterbean to box against Gunn at WrestleMania XV. Gunn lost that fight within a minute, and the entire Brawl For All tournament was quickly shoved under the rug and forgotten about.
Kurt Angle Throws Shane Through The Glass — Kinda
This unscripted moment wasn’t controversial like most of the other ones on this list, but it was sure painful. At the 2001 King of the Ring pay-per-view, Kurt Angle and Shane McMahon were engaged in a street fight. Shane is notorious for taking brutal amounts of punishment in the name of entertainment, but he definitely didn’t expect what happened that night.
The plan was for Angle to suplex Shane O’Mac through some decorative glass panes at the top of the ramp. Unfortunately, the glass didn’t want to cooperate. The first attempt resulted in the glass not breaking and Shane landing directly on his head. Rather than give up on the spot, they tried again. This time, the glass thankfully broke. Then Angle suplexed him through another one, just for good measure.
Vince McMahon Blows His Quads
We’re not really sure if Vince McMahon was supposed to make an appearance at the end of the 2005 Royal Rumble, but when John Cena and Batista were eliminated at the same time to finish off the Rumble match itself, the CEO had to make an appearance to straighten the situation out.
Many fans think that Cena and Batista actually botched the end of the match, forcing McMahon to come out “in character” to order it restarted. Sadly (and somewhat hilariously), McMahon would somehow manage to blow out both of his quad muscles while sliding into the ring. That created a bizarre scene where McMahon was sitting on his butt in a ring, barking out orders and trying to sound like the boss.
The King Has a Heart Attack
Faking injuries is a big part of being in the pro wrestling business. But there was nothing fake about what happened to Jerry “The King’ Lawler on a episode of Raw in 2012. During a tag match between Team Hell No and The Prime Time Players, audiences at home were suddenly subjected to strange commentary. It turns out that Lawler had suffered a very real heart attack, live on air.
Michael Cole then addressed the audience, informing everyone that the incident was not part of the planned drama that night. Thankfully, the WWE medical staff were able to respond to his condition almost immediately, and he made a full recovery.
Mass Transit Incident
A lot of strange and violent things happen in ECW when it was still an underground promotion in New York and Philadelphia. However, the Mass Transit Incident one of the off the scariest and downright disturbing things the promotion ever featured.
For some reason, they had a untrained kid named Eric Kulas (aka Mass Transit) in the ring against New Jack, a legitimately violent wrestler who had a reputation for being unpredictable. New Jack, apparently trying to teach the kid a lesson, bladed the kid (cut his forehead with a sharp object), but went way too far. Kulas lost a sickening amount of blood and needed over 50 stitches. He was lucky not to die.
Kulas and his family sued ECW, but lost when it was revealed that he was only 17-years-old and lied to owner Paul Heyman about his age in order to appear on the show.
CM Punk’s Pipebomb
These days, CM Punk is mostly known for failing miserably as a UFC fighter. However, it wasn’t that long ago that he was considered the best wrestler in the business, both for his in-ring performance and his work on the mic. His most famous moment, though, was easily his “Pipebomb” promo, which he cut on an episode of Raw in 2011.
After interfering in a match between John Cena and R-Truth, Punk did something very unconventional. He took a seat at the top of the ramp (symbolically wearing a “Stone Cold” Steve Austin shirt), and proceeded to cut a scathing promo against the WWE. He openly talked about his expiring WWE contract and insulted the McMahons and Triple H (even calling The Rock him by his real name of Dwayne). Eventually, his mic was cut off, which may or may not have been a work, depending on what you believe.
While the WWE definitely planned for Punk to have some free reign mic time, it’s generally believed that he went way over the line. Whatever he was supposed to say that night, he definitely went off-script to make the promo extra spicy. And it worked, because it’s often cited as one of the best promos in the history of the business.
Macho Man’s Snake Bite
Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Macho Man Randy Savage were two of the biggest names in pro wrestling during the 80s and early 90s. Their feud in the early 90s culminated in an unscripted moment that was literally terrifying for many young fans, and even some older ones.
During an episode of Superstars of Wrestling, Roberts tied Savage up in the ropes and brought out his large cobra. The snake (which was thankfully been devenomized) was supposed to give Savage a small bite. However, when the spot actually went down, the cobra latched on to Savage’s arm and refused to let go. The scene ended up being a lot more scary and gruesome than planned, with blood pouring out of the Macho Man’s arm. Personally speaking as someone who was about 8-years-old at the time, I was on the verge of tears while watching it.
Mankind Chokeslammed Through the Cell
The 1998 King of the Ring featured one of the most memorable matches in WWE history, even though it barely featured any in-ring action. Mankind (aka Mick Foley) was facing off The Undertaker in Hell in a Cell, and both competitors were battling injuries and worried the match would suck. According to Foley, he expressed these concerns to his friend Terry Funk, and the Funker jokingly replied “Maybe you should let him throw you off the top of the Cell.” Foley laughed, but then started seriously considering it.
Mankind and the Taker actually started the match by climbing the Cell, and Foley was soon thrown off the top, through the announcers table. The match was supposed to end there. Instead, as he was being stretchered up the ramp, Foley shoved aside the EMTs and climbed the Cell again (this time with a separated shoulder). The Taker set up for a chokeslam that probably would have ended the match, but the crew who designed the Cell has no idea that over 500-pounds of pro wrestler would actually be on top of the structure. The chokeslam broke through the top of the Cell, sending Foley crashing into the ring below, knocking him out cold in a moment of real terror for those watching.
Later, when asked about his reaction to watching Foley fall through the cage, the Undertaker simply replied, “I thought he was dead.”
Triple H Blows Out His Quads (x2)
Triple H has a rough history with his quads. He first injured them during a match on Raw in 2011, when he teamed with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to face the team of Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. While breaking up a submission attempt, Triple H somehow managed to completely tear his quad off the bone (which is gross). Amazingly, he finished the match, even allowing Y2J to put him in the Walls of Jericho on the announce table. The injury would put an abrupt end to the McMahon-Hemsley Era angle. He would return as a huge babyface eight months later.
Later in his career, Triple H would suffer almost the exact same injury during a match against Rated RKO (Edge and Randy Orton). With the planned finish to the tag match no longer possible, Shawn Michael’s begins to improvise. He hits ridiculous spots and dishes out chair shots like candy. Orton bladed and begins bleeding all over the damn place. Despite being in obvious pain, Triple H managed to hit Orton with the Pedigree — through the announce table, which didn’t even break. Then HBK dropped a top rope elbow through the other announce table, and the chaos was finally concluded, as the match was declared a No Contest.
WCW Ref Chokes Out Invading Fan
Throughout wrestling history, there have been numerous incidents where a fan decides he wants to be part of the show. In the old days, those fans were usually given a few stiff punches or kicks by the performers. But back in 1997, a WCW match between Dean Malenko and Psycosis featured the referee, of all people, dishing a beatdown to one unwanted intruder.
When an overzealous fan tried to storm the ring, referee Mark Curtis delivers a textbook flying knee to the poor sap’s head, and then traps him in an a guillotine choke until security arrives to finish the job. The best part of the whole thing is that rather than pretend it didn’t happen, Bobby ‘The Brain” Heenan laughs about it during the play-by-play commentary.
The Acolytes vs. Public Enemy
The Acolytes, made up of Bradshaw and Faarooq, had a reputation for being tough and extra stiff in the ring. If you had a match with them, you could expect to still feel it the next day. In 1999, Public Enemy had just returned to the WWF after a stint in ECW, a promotion also known for dishing out the violence in large doses.
According to rumors, The Acolytes were supposed to beat Public Enemy in a Tables Match on Sunday Night Heat (remember Sunday Night Heat?) Public Enemy, who were already universally disliked backstage, tried to change the script at the last minute. They didn’t want to do the job in a Table Match, since tables were part of their gimmick in ECW.
What followed was a serious beatdown, as Bradshaw and Faarooq threw heavy punches and legit kicks, followed by stiff chairshots. The match ended with Public Enemy going through a table, just like the original plan called for.
Jesus Christ, WCW, what were you thinking? In what universe does it make sense to cover a Star Wars stormtrooper mask in glitter and declare it a wrestling character? But that’s exactly what happened when The Shockmaster made his debut in 1993.
Played by Fred Ottman (best known as Typhoon of the Natural Disasters tag team), The Shockmaster was ruined from the very second he debuted, as he stumbled through a wall and had his helmet fall off. You can even hear Ric Flair say “I told ya” in the background, along with Sid Vicious uttering a frustrated “Oh God.” It should be no surprise that the gimmick never really took off after that botched debut.
Droz Gets Paralyzed
There’s no way to dress this up. Wrestling is a dangerous business and even the most careful performers can accidently injure themselves or their opponents. In the case of Darren Drozdov aka “Droz,” an injury not only ended his career, but drastically altered his entire life.
In a 1999 episode of SmackDown, Droz was wrestling D’Lo Brown in a non-televised dark match. During a spot that was supposed to feature a running powerbomb, Brown lost his grip and dropped Droz directly on his head. There’s no happy ending here, as Drozdov was paralyzed and forced to live his life as a quadriplegic. Substantial physiotherapy has allowed him the regain some feeling and use of his arms and upper body, but he’s still confined to a wheelchair.
The Curtain Call
Almost everyone knows about the Curtain Call by now. It was one of those moments that had a universe altering affect on the world of pro wrestling. For those who don’t know, the Curtain Call was the final WWF show for Kevin Nash (Diesel) and Scott Hall (Razor Ramon), who had signed big contracts to leave for WCW (where they would be founding members of the nWo, probably the greatest angle in the history of pro wrestling). At the end of that show, a non-televised event at Madison Square Garden, real-life friends Shawn Michaels and Triple H came out to embrace their departing buddies, which was a huge problem because two of their characters were heels and two were faces. It was a direct blow to concept of kayfabe, which was still highly protected in 1996.
Vince McMahon was furious, but he couldn’t punish Hall or Nash since they were leaving the company. Michaels was the champion at the time, and was virtually untouchable. So Triple H was left “holding the bag,” and was punished by having his planned King of the Ring victory taken away. They would give it to an up-and-coming guy named Steve Austin, who finished off the tournament by cutting his now-famous “Austin 3:16” promo, and the rest is history. Triple H would, of course, bounce back from the punishment and have an amazing career of his own.
Jeff Hardy vs. Sting at TNA Victory Road
Jeff Hardy is many things. He’s an innovator in terms of ladder matches and death-defying aerial moves. He’s one of the great tag team wrestlers in WWE history. He’s also had a very public battle with drugs and alcohol, which eventually led to him being forced out of the WWE.
He would resurface in TNA, and was booked to face Sting in a championship match at Victory Road in 2011. It could have actually been an exciting match, but Hardy ruined it before it could even begin. He was visibly under the influence of something, even as he stumbled his way to the ring. Poor Sting and the ref had no choice but to turn the whole thing into a giant squash, ending the main event of the night in a mere 30 seconds.
The Montreal Screwjob
What else do we really need to say about this incident? It’s probably the most well-publicized unscripted moment in wrestling history at this point. For anyone who needs a refresher though: Bret Hart was leaving the WWF for WCW, but there was a problem — he was still the champion. He refused to drop the belt at the 1997 Survivor Series, due to a legit real-life hatred of Shawn Michaels. Hart wanted to retain the belt, and then give up the title willingly the next night on Raw.
That put Vince McMahon in a tough spot. Hart’s contract was up, and there was no guarantee he would fulfill his promise to appear on Raw the following day. McMahon couldn’t risk it — WWF Women’s Champion Alundra Blayze had recently shown up on WCW and thrown the WWF belt in a trash can on live television.
So Vince told Bret that he would retain the title. But when HBK locked Bret into the Sharpshooter, McMahon ordered the referee (Earl Hebner) to call off the match, declaring a Michaels’ victory via submission. Hart was furious, and he spat in McMahon’s face live on PPV, and punched him in the face backstage. Bret went off to WCW (where they completely misused him), and the grudge from the Montreal screwjob lasted for decades afterwards.
Mickie James Stalker Angle
Apparently some things are too much for the wacky world of professional wrestling. After flaunting scantily clad females all over our televisions for much of the Attitude Era, Vince McMahon was reportedly furious at the provocative actions of Mickie James at WrestleMania 22. James was involved in a feud with Trish Stratus, where she was acting like an obsessed stalker. On more than one occasion, James alluded that her “devoted fandom” to Stratus had a sexual connotation.
During the match, James aggressively grabbed Stratus’ crotch-area and made a vulgar gesture to the crowd. McMahon was so angry, he laid into James backstage after the match. The WWE would edit those moments out of DVD releases of the event.
Owen Hart Dies
As much as we hate to remind everyone (and ourselves) about what happened at 1999’s Over the Edge pay-per-view, we can’t talk about unscripted disasters without mentioning the untimely and tragic death of Owen Hart. As part of his Blue Blazer gimmick, Hart was set to be lowered from the rafters of the Kemper Center, similar to the entrance Sting was using in WCW at the time.
Something went horribly wrong though, and the harness failed, dropping Hart 70 feet into the turnbuckle and killing him. The show continued, which was a controversy of its own, and the live crowd was never informed of Hart’s fate, although Jim Ross announced to the television audience later that night that Hart has indeed passed away as a result of the accident.
Owen’s family sued the WWE and settled for $18 million, although his widow Martha still refuses to allow the WWE to produce a tribute DVD of his career or induct him into their Hall of Fame.