Craig Wilson, Jamie Lithgow, Brian Damage, John Carbery, Amerigo Diehl & Earl Marx
In today’s Sunday Sermon we go old-school and take a look at some of the biggest moments and superstars in the history of the business. Moments that have changed wrestling for the good and superstars that have revolutionised the business.
Craig: It is fair to say that this could be a very far-reaching subject. What are some of the biggest and most important moments in wrestling history. It’s fair to say that the bulk, if not nearly all, of the discussion, I assume, would focus on the period through the 80s to the late 90s with a few bits and bobs from elsewhere.
There’s also several different ways to approach this: what are the moments or superstars that got you into wrestling and what are the moments and superstars that played a part in revolutionising the business or increased its popularity.
From my perspective, it was the expansion of the WWF and the rise of Hulkamania – a chicken or egg right there – which got me into wrestling. Before this, us UK kids only knew of wrestling from a World of Sport perspective with the likes of Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy. It took the global fame of Hulkamania for us to see these superhero-like performers on our screens at home.
As a WWE fan, it is difficult to look beyond Vince McMahon’s purchase of the WWF from his father and subsequent expansion plans as one of the biggest moments in wrestling history.
What about you guys, biggest moments and performers?
Jamie: I’d agree, the Raw/Nitro simulcast immediately springs to mind. Days later we had Wrestlemania 17 too, probably the best Wrestlemania of the lot. Even at the time these shows felt like the end of an era; one which was the most successful in the history of wrestling. Certainly within my lifetime this had the biggest impact on me. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the first Wrestlemania. Vince buying WCW certainly shook things up, but there was comparatively little risk compared to his staging of the first Wrestlemania. I was only a couple months old in March 1985 so I cannot comment on the feeling at the time, but in hindsight that show was more than a game changer, it changed the entire sport…….. or is that sports entertainment?
John: CM Punk’s perseverance and main event run is a series of important moments. Punk was the guy who brought the state of the art wresting of the independent world to the biggest stage. Without Punk the likes of Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura among others wouldn’t have had the same opportunities in WWE.
Brian: We need to remember that there was a whole history in pro wrestling before the WWE became a Juggernaut. I mean a huge star in the Memphis territory…Sputnik Monroe refusing to wrestle a match unless blacks were allowed to sit wherever they wanted and not be segregated. George Hackenschmidt wrestling Frank Gotch in Chicago in front of over 25,000 fans in 1911.
A top celebrity during his time Andy Kaufman wrestling Jerry ‘the King’ Lawler down in Memphis, Tennessee. While the WWE had some memorable moments…it wasn’t the be all and end all of pro wrestling.
John: Certainly there is a lot more history outside of the WWE but its easier to speak about important moments from a first hand perspective, for a lot of people WWE was their first experience of wrestling too.
One massive event I remember was the death of Shohei Giant Baba in 1999. I hadn’t seen all that much of him as a wrestler but I was aware of how important he was in the wrestling world in general. What I didn’t realise was the far reaching effects his death would have on Japanese and global wrestling. AJPW went from a neck and neck competitor to 3rd place behind Pro Wrestling NOAH and NJPW inrecord time when you consider just how prestigious an organisation it was during the 90s and 00s.
It’s quite sad to behold really as AJPW and its Triple Crown were such a special part of the wrestling landscape and as a huge fan of The Great Muta it broke my heart to see both he and the company left in his charge fade away from greatness. AJPW has soldiered on though and it seems like the company is on the mend slowly but surely. 2016 was a good year for them and their current ace player Kento Miyahara is the kind of star that could carry them to bigger and better things if all goes according to plan.
Growing up in Ireland in the 90s, it seemed my idea of what wrestling was differed a lot with all the adults around me. Whenever I mentioned wrestling they’d always bring up Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, whose televised feud made it across the Irish Sea. Still to this day, mention wrestling to a person of a certain vintage and they’ll bring up Daddy vs Haystacks. It was only after the advent of ebay and bootlegging that I was able to track down some of their matches. The biggest one seemingly took place on June 18 in Wembley Arena, London. I couldn’t find a reliable source for the viewing figures, but I remember the numbers reported on some sources being a sizable chunk of the British population.
The match itself wasn’t up to much, but it has resonated for decades afterwards. It was probably the peak of British wrestlings popularity and a prime example of basic heel vs babyface booking. While it might be easy for someone from another to time to write Daddy vs Haystacks off, especially when you’re exposed to their contemporaries like Saint, Gret et al, I have to image the Wembley Arena showdown felt like the biggest moment in wrestling history to grapple fans in Britain.
Brian: John, you make an excellent point about remembering what you lived through rather than what you may have read about. For me, living on the east coast here in the States…the WWF was king.
Seeing Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant facing off on live FREE television on NBC was truly a remarkable moment for me. What made it even better was seeing the screw job with the Hebner twins costing Hulk the title and Andre subsequently relinquishing the title to Ted Dibiase. It was one of my first real Holy Sh!t moments in pro wrestling.
Amerigo: Wow, this was a tough one to narrow down, but here goes:
5. Hogan’s heel turn at Bash at the Beach. This one started the NWO and the Monday night wars.
4. Ivan koloff defeats Bruno Sammartino. Bruno had held the title for more than 7 years, totally unheard of by today’s standards. They were so fearful of a riot that they didn’t even present Koloff with the belt until after he had left the ring.
3. Vince buys WCW. #5 on the list started the Monday night wars, this one ended it. The WWE has not faced any major competition since that moment in 2001.
2. Stone Cold wins the king of the ring. That event launched the attitude era, and made Austin a superstar.
1. Hulk Hogan wins the WWF title January 1984. While it may not seem very big to some, it set in motion other events that led to the end of territorial wrestling, and established the then WWF as a national company. Wrestling would soon be changed forever.
John: While I’ve never been much of a Seamus fan, I used to give him untold grief at indie shows before he got signed, I stood up and took notice when he won the WWE Championship. Pretty much every Irish wrestling fan was blown away that someone from here was holding that belt.
It was an even bigger deal for me to see Finn Balor win the Universal Title at Summerslam last year. I’d been a huge fan of his for years and I knew he was the best wrestler ever to come from Ireland, to see that guy get the push he deserved even just for a moment was wild.
I’ve been reading about Ivan Koloff’s WWWF title victory over Bruno Sammartino a lot lately due to Ivan’s passing. Reading about the silence in Madison Square Garden after Ivan unexpectedly pinned Bruno is amazing, its tragic that no decent footage of it exists. From what I’ve read and heard its like the world came to an end for Sammartino fans. One thing I can attest to is the indescribable joy the MSG fans exhibited when Pedro Morales beat Koloff for the belt a few weeks later. It could be the biggest crowd reaction in the history of wrestling.
Speaking of crowd reactions, I’m sure many of you have seen Los Gringos Locos vs El Jijo Del Santo and Octagon from AAA When Worlds Collide. If you haven’t its an incredible match with the sound off but the intense heat from the audience puts it over the top.
Back to more recent times, I think we’ll be looking back at Kenny Omega’s first Tokyo Dome main event with Kazuchika Okada at this years Wrestle Kingdom as a very important moment. Omega seems to have international appeal that no other foreign headliner in Japan has ever had, now it could be argued that the internet is a huge part of this but there was more Western interest in WK 11 than any of the Dome shows that preceded it. If NJPW play their cards right they could become global players by backing Omega and having him lead the charge West.
Jamie: John may have a point regarding NJPW, as their relatively recent launch of an English language website might suggest. I wonder if we are witnessing the seeds being sewn for another company to finally put some pressure on WWE? I guess only time will tell, but if that is what is happening then Omega vs Okada at WK11 will take on even more significance within the context of this conversation.
Hulk Hogan’s heel turn and the formation of the New World Order at Bash at The Beach 1996 is a big one. I’ll admit, it did not immediately spring to mind for me but surely it’s up there? The heel turn has always been a valuable tool in wrestling, and Hogan’s is still top of the pops in most people’s eyes. Thus, it stands to reason that the most recognisable wrestler ever turning bad would be a big moment in wrestling’s history. I wonder what would have become of Hogan had he not turned heel?
How about a moment for the future, do we think John Cena will break Ric Flair’s record and chalk up a 17th word title reign? If so then surely it will be a more memorable moment than his record equalling victory, which turned out to be a transitional run. Granted the match with Styles at the Rumble was outstanding, but it just didn’t feel like Cena equalled a long-standing record.
Brian: There is no doubt that John Cena will get another WWE title run. Perhaps in time for next year’s Wrestlemania? While I certainly wouldn’t be happy if Cena broke Flair’s record….it would generate interest if booked correctly.
What about Mankind falling off the top of the Hell in a Cell? I saw that live on pay per view and couldn’t believe what I had witnessed.
Earl: I agree with Amerigo on two VERY important ones for me;
1) Vince Buying WCW – I am not sure if more can be added to it. As a youngster not considering the business end, it just SCREAMED endless possibilities. I was certain we would get matchups that we had never seen before. I was wrong. Ha. But this changed the game, and yes indeed – there has been no REAL competition to WWE since this.
2) Hogan Heel Turn – Yeah, put my age together, but I was 9 years old when this happened. I was a Hogan fan. The only way for us to really get rumors around that time were hotlines. So, imagine the surprise and heartbreaking feeling I got when Hogan turned. The promo was so confusing and I could not understand why my hero would do such a thing. What followed afterward was one of the greatest storylines to ever grace wrestling. Looking back at it, Heenan called it a little too soon, but I remember the feeling…it hurt. Haha.
Now, if I were to add three more to the mix
3) CM Punk’s PipeBomb Promo – Yes, he hates that term. I think this one was so epic because it was far from expected. As it happened, the feeling that “oh this is going to be a good promo” quickly turned into “whoooaaaa…that felt real AF!!!” From there, it felt like the underdog re-emerged. We didn’t need a John Cena at all. For me, it was really the beginning of WWE transitioning away from the John Cena-type being the hero.
4) Shawn Michaels Achieving The “Boyhood Dream” – This match…wow. I mean…I had never seen anything like it up until that point. Now, for me to be young and this match still capture my attention and interest for 60 minutes says a lot. I loved Bret Hart at the time (and still do…one of my top 5 of all time), but I cheered for SHAWN! I wanted Shawn to win. This match brought out what wrestling is about for me to this day – sometimes, you don’t like one guy and hate the other. Sometimes, you like both, BUT,,,it’s something about the story that causes you to really root for one over the other.
5) OK….now that I am thinking about it….Amerigo is on it… the last spot will go to Austin and the KOTR promo. I mean…this changed the landscape FOREVER!!!! It holds up as one of my favorite promos to this day. Let’s not forget he gave it in my hometown of Milwaukee. Even now, it holds up well with Austin’s delivery. Feel free to omit the quote, but man….
“The first thing I want to be done is to get that piece of crap out of my ring. Don’t just get him out of the ring—get him out of the WWF. Because I proved, son, without a shadow of a doubt, you ain’t got what it takes any more. You sit there and you thump your Bible and you say your prayers and it didn’t get you anywhere. Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16 — Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass. All he’s gotta do is go buy him a cheap bottle of Thunderbird and try to get back some of that courage he had in his prime.”
Thought of something we didn’t mention? Join the discussion by using the comments section below.
You can read all previous Sunday Sermons here.