It didn’t take long for Dean Ambrose’s exploding-television mishap (Magnavox Overdrive?) to become subject of ridicule. The fact that Ambrose is winless in all pay-per-view bouts post-Shield split (that’s since June 2) only makes an incendiary monitor more the source of caustic feeling.
The ending of a WWE pay-per-view is generally the lasting impression left on viewers. There may have been some enjoyably crisp match in the undercard (certainly the Dolph Ziggler/Luke Harper ladder match from TLC fits this profile), which may have to yield in the face of a thudding finish. Ambrose being defeated by technology, an incident more likely to do in Cosmo Kramer or Kenny McCormack than wily-whackjob Ambrose, is such a thud.
Over the years, harebrained ideas have punctuated these events, earning their rightful place in negative lore. Your mileage may vary, and with all matters wrestling among distinct fan tastes it will, but I’ve concocted a list of what I feel are the 25 most absurd final acts in WWE pay-per-view history.
CAVEAT 1: this list doesn’t necessary include instances where ‘the wrong guy went over’. That’s certainly subjective. You’re better off writing, “25 times I think Triple H and John Cena should have put someone over.” Now THAT’S a subjective list. But there are a few examples littered in here.
CAVEAT 2: Montreal is disqualified. No incident that turns Vince McMahon into the grandest of villains for Steve Austin to combat with weekly, spurring wrestling’s vaunted Attitude Era into the highest of gears, can count as lame. Unfair to Bret Hart? You can pick a side. Lame? Hardly.
CAVEAT 3: Chances are, you’re going to see something on this list that you personally enjoyed. That’s what friendly debate is for. I once inducted WrestleMania XXVII into WrestleCrap and I still get raked over the coals from time to time for it. Once again, this is all subjective. Just play along, if you would.
CAVEAT 4: For those who DO take offense to anything written, keep in mind it’s almost always written with a playful grin than with a scowl. So many of these moments provided unintentional bits of comedy, how *can* you hate them? Wrestling is fun, even when it’s garbage. Sometimes it takes years to see the humor in these happenings, and other times it’s instant. But hey, it’s why we still watch.
And now, here go the list.
25. THE WHAT GENERATION? (King of the Ring, June 19, 1994)
In 1994, WWE earnestly promoted its hard-hitting, fast-paced “New Generation”, with prime talents like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels leading the way. To contradict this fresh sentiment, the King of the Ring closed with Jerry Lawler wrestling Rowdy Roddy Piper, both men well into their forties. While both men have forged storied legacies, this match is best left out.
Piper fought the insipid Lawler for the right to donate his ‘winning money’ to a Toronto children’s hospital, and Lawler was set on stopping him, like something out of a Marx Brothers movie. The match felt just as aged, and the slow finish didn’t help: Piper hitting a slow-motion back suplex with an awkward bridge that Lawler somehow could not escape.
24. A GRADUAL BURIAL (Rock Bottom, December 13, 1998)
Stone Cold Steve Austin could do no wrong in 1998. It goes without saying that bits like whacking Vince McMahon with a bedpan, or humoring McMahon’s attempt at making him over in corporate stylings, could have bombed with a performer of lesser personality. Austin’s cool factor buoyed many moments, even ones that were just beyond his control.
Closing out 1998, Austin would defeat the increasingly-Satantic Undertaker in a Buried Alive match. While Undertaker lay prone in the grave, Austin instructed a backhoe operator to pile on the dirt. After fidgeting with the controls, to noticeable crowd groans, the driver managed to dump the soil on after what felt like an agonizing hour, with a possibly comatose ‘Taker.
23. MONTREAL: THE SEARCH FOR MORE MONEY (Breaking Point, September 13, 2009)
While Montreal, polarizing as the moment remains, was undeniably the source of great growth for a blissfully-seedy WWE, attempts to rip it off have been lacking. Survivor Series 1998 gets points only for the Rock-Mankind double-turn. Other occurrences of ‘ringing the f–king bell’ since only make the home viewer want to smash their monitors, a la Bret Hart.
At WWE’s lone Breaking Point event, highlighting submission matches, World Champion CM Punk defeated Undertaker in a criminally short match when that bell f–king rang as ‘Taker was in the process of countering the Anaconda Vice. The sort-of explanation: a galvanized Teddy Long orchestrated the screwjob to impress Vince McMahon. Well, it WAS in Montreal….
One major change from the Attitude Era’s closing was, to a degree, serious slowing down of storylines. The good: an exciting story has time to breathe and build (see: Jericho vs. Michaels, 2008). The bad: you’re liable to get a screwy finish on pay-per-view, with the rematch coming the following month. At $45-55 a pop, this can be very irksome to tight-budget viewers.
A fresh-faced Brock Lesnar had just become WWE Champion, and warred with Undertaker in a decent brawl that ended after 20 minutes with a double-DQ that was simply rare in post-Attitude, re-education-filled 2002. The Los Angeles fans blew a gasket in response, and rightly so. The Hell in a Cell rematch a month later is legendary, though the road there had this pothole.
21. TV TAPING (Extreme Rules, April 25, 2010)
There’s two ideas that clash like oil and water: the concept of violent wrestling, and the Bugs Bunny-like comic mischief of John Cena. Hey, Hulk Hogan did plenty of goofy stuff in his matches (many of his Saturday Night’s Main Event moments are beautiful in their intricate silliness), and Cena certainly runs to that well in order to ‘create smiles’, per company mantra.
Cena and Batista put together a pretty good Last Man Standing match for the WWE Championship, and Cena did emerge as ‘last man standing’. That’s because Cena duct-taped Batista’s ankles around the ringpost, taking just long enough for the 300-pound Batista to look foolish in his inability to kick his muscular legs free. Admittedly, that stuff is potent.
20. THE RIGHT/WRONG MAN (In Your House: Triple Header, September 24, 1995)
Bait and switch, thy name is Titan. Immediately following SummerSlam 1995, WWE went into hype overdrive for the third In Your House, booking a true rarity: a match in which the World, Intercontinental, and Tag Team Titles would be on the line. Diesel and Shawn Michaels would defend their respective belts against tag champs Owen Hart and Yokozuna.
Hart would end up making the PPV late following the birth of his daughter Athena, but that only triggered an obvious escape clause. Davey Boy Smith, freshly-turned heel on Diesel, substituted for his brother-in-law. Late in the bout, Owen ran in from out of nowhere, and was immediately powerbombed and pinned by Diesel. The title change was nullified the following morning.
19. WWE LOSES CONTROL (Cyber Sunday, November 5, 2006)
Any sort of celebrity endorsement of WWE is gratefully accepted like a sandwich by a beggar. There is literally almost no D-or-E-lister that WWE won’t latch onto for a quick sniff. These days, middle-of-the-road TV stars are the preferred wagons to hitch to, though WWE has a history of scraping Hollywood’s barrel base for some sort of bad-boy connection. Enter Kevin Federline.
Remember Britney Spears’ ex-husband? At this time, ‘K-Fed’ released a unanimously-panned rap album, Playing With Fire, and WWE’s Attitude-lite product was attempting to make him their new Mike Tyson. Federline cost John Cena the World Heavyweight Title in a triple threat match via distraction, beat him on Raw two months later, and then vanished forever.
18. GASSED CHAMBER (SummerSlam, August 24, 2003)
The case against Triple H from diehard wrestling fans can be extensive, but give the man credit: his pedigree, pun intended, of great matches is a lengthy one, and he’s capable of delivering a believable main event. This wasn’t always the case; in 2003, as World Heavyweight Champion, Triple H reached a career nadir with Raw in a slump, and he quite literally couldn’t carry things.
By SummerSlam, Triple H was badly out of shape, thanks to a serious thigh/groin injury that kept him from working out to his overzealous liking. This meant in SummerSlam’s Elimination Chamber title defense, Helmsley (in garish bicycle shorts) watched Goldberg pulverize everyone before pinning “The Man” with a solitary sledgehammer blow, doing two minutes of work.
17. PULLING THE STRINGS (King of the Ring, June 27, 1999)
One of the en vogue story tropes of the Attitude Era was the “WHODUNNIT” mystery. Who ran down Austin in the parking lot? Who hit Kevin Nash with the Hummer truck? Who is the Higher Power? After Vince McMahon was hastily revealed as that last shrouded figure, the mysteries lost their luster considerably. At least the Higher Power, though, had a payoff.
Steve Austin battled Vince and son Shane for total control of WWE at King of the Ring in a ladder match, with the ownership certificates suspended in a briefcase above the ring. Austin had the match won, and made his climb, when the briefcase was suddenly jerked out of Austin’s reach. The McMahons won full power, and the assailant was never, ever revealed.
16. THIS IS A RECORDING (Over the Limit, May 22, 2011)
John Cena doesn’t quit. Period. Wisenheimer fans will note that Kurt Angle and the redacted Chris Benoit have made Cena tap (for $9.99, you can watch Angle do it at No Mercy 2003), but those are bits of buried history in the primary narrative. Cena, unless he turns heel, is never submitting. Otherwise, those hand-towels he displays are worthless. Well, even more so.
After tormenting WWE Champion Cena in an I Quit match, The Miz managed to draw a submission with a chair-shot beating. The referee then deciphered that it was a recording of Cena previously saying the words in a promo, via Alex Riley’s cell phone lying near Cena’s head. Cena came to life, chased Miz up the rampway, and made him submit seconds later.
15. HELP ME, OBI-WYATT (Hell in a Cell, October 26, 2014)
If the feud between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins has not truly ended, then this entry wouldn’t be so bad. As it stands, it’s a detour for WWE’s best feud of 2014 (assuming it picks up in 2015 sometime). That doesn’t extinguish the randomness of the moment, as well as the all-too excessive nature of what took place. It did take away from an enjoyable brawl.
As Ambrose and Rollins concluded their violent-minus-blood Hell in a Cell bout, Ambrose was about to win when *gasp* the lights went out. Some sort of plain-spoken Middle-Eastern chant was played on loop for what felt like hours. Then a hologram of Bray Wyatt appeared over a smoking lantern in the ring. Wyatt appeared, randomly attacked Ambrose, and Rollins won.
14. SOME PARTING GIFT, BROTHER (WrestleMania VIII, April 5, 1992)
WWE began something of a free-fall in 1992, in regards to a major roster purge. By year’s end, The Ultimate Warrior, Davey Boy Smith, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts, Legion of Doom, and Sid Justice would all leave the company. Hulk Hogan, the biggest star WWE had known by a country mile, was finishing after WrestleMania VIII, a fact that the company vaguely hyped as true.
Hogan headlined against Sid in what was a pretty bland match, building to the Hogan Formula Finish. That’s when Sid kicked out of the legdrop in a shocker, purportedly because an interfering Papa Shango was late. The fact that WrestleMania ended with a disqualification was a considerable letdown, even with Ultimate Warrior making the save in a startling return.
13. OH, THAT’S WHY THEY…. (Royal Rumble, January 29, 2006)
In the 1990s, the company experimented three straight years with putting the World Title match on after the Rumble match. WWE soon figured out that nothing could follow the one-hour tradition, and by 1999, they reverted back to closing the event with the signature gauntlet. An exception has been made twice since: 2013, so Rock could close, and this mind-boggler.
In 2006, the 30-man classic went on fourth out of six matches. Kurt Angle and an ice-cold Mark Henry went on last for the World Title in a plodding affair, headshaking until Angle’s victory celebration. Undertaker arrived on a chariot and caused the ring to collapse as a means of challenging Angle. Boy, good thing WWE changed the match order before that supernatural act.
12. DEAL WITH IT (Royal Rumble, January 26, 2014)
A rare entry on this list that exclusively criticizes the choice of winner than an actual convoluted finish. You won’t need much reminding: Daniel Bryan was by the time the most popular wrestler in the industry, shaking off pointless refuge in the Wyatt Family by destroying the trio in a memorable conclusion to Raw, with the thunderous crowd “YESes” shaking the venue.
Two weeks later, WWE excluded Bryan from the Royal Rumble match, having him put Bray Wyatt over cleanly to start the show. As the crowd gradually grew more sour, an unwelcome Batista ended up winning the Rumble match. When Rey Mysterio entered at No. 30, the realization of Bryan’s absence drew the sort of caustic rage that every heel dreams of.
11. STEP ASIDE, JABRONIES (WrestleMania XXVII, April 3, 2011)
When The Rock made an unexpected return on the February 14 Raw, shockwaves coursed. It’d been seven years since “The Great One” made any sort of meaningful appearance in an actual WWE arena. The Attitude cornerstone would take on the dreaded ‘guest host’ role at WrestleMania, though his diatribes against John Cena were positively right out of 1999.
Problem: Cena wasn’t facing Rock. Instead, Cena was challenging WWE Champion The Miz, with whom he had as unspectacular a main event as you could have on the biggest stage. Miz wound up retaining after Rock cost Cena the match. Then Miz would ‘know his role’ by getting Rock Bottom’d in the aftermath, leaving Rock, a non-wrestler, as the only man standing tall.
10. GREAT MAIN EVENT? NO CHANCE (Royal Rumble, January 24, 1999)
As the previous entry suggests, a bad main event is made much worse with a ridiculous ending. A bad match that lasts one hour and has an equally insulting finish? Much worse, as you’d probably guess. When a bad Royal Rumble came down to the first two entrants, a barely-active Steve Austin and Vince McMahon, jaded fans half-heartedly expected a swerve, which they got.
After Austin beat McMahon half to death, with a World Title match hanging in the balance, he didn’t eliminate the boss, choosing to inflict more damage. This brought The Rock out to distract Austin, giving carte blanche to years of distraction finishes. A suddenly stupid Austin fell under Rock’s spell and tangled with him, allowing the cadaver of Vince to dump Stone Cold.
9. SPONSORED BY JIMMY-JOBS (Extreme Rules, April 29, 2012)
Brock Lesnar’s return following a bountiful UFC run created plenty of excitement. His post-WrestleMania arrival, in which he F5’ed John Cena, nearly blew the roof off of the arena. The vignettes hyping their match four weeks later at Extreme Rules were a paradox of simple, and outside-the-box. Lesnar was now a crossover star, the magnitude of which WWE covets.
So then after bloodying Cena with stiff blows, and nearly breaking the man’s arm with a kimura lock, Lesnar would lose the high-profile bout cleanly. Making matters more confusing was a post-match Cena promo, in which he claimed he may be going away for a while to rest. Not only did Cena not go anywhere, but it undermined the marquee return of beastly megastar.
8. CRANE POSITION (Survivor Series, November 19, 2000)
When topping a heinous act with a measure of revenge, never underestimate WWE’s ability to veer too far into the realm of the absurd. One year earlier at Survivor Series, Steve Austin would be struck by a car in a plot masterminded by Triple H (with Rikishi as the driver). Austin and HHH would war one year later. In Attitude Era WWE, they knew they had to top a speedy rundown.
The match spilled all over the arena, and into the parking lot. Austin fought off the interfering Radicalz, while an ill-tempered Triple H started up a nearby car. As he started it up, Austin appeared inside a crane, lifted the car a few stories off the ground, and let it drop with Helmsley inside. Instead of being, well, dead, Helmsley reappeared not long after with nary a scratch on his body.
7. PLOD DEVICE (No Way Out, February 20, 2005)
One of the common elements on the list: the sudden stupidity of babyfaces. For many of these ideas to ‘work’, the purported hero has to lose 50 IQ points at the worst possible time. Take the barbed wire steel cage match for the WWE Title between JBL and Big Show. On many occasions, Show has played the ogre-like fool, but none moreso than the ending of this No Way Out.
The bloody affair saw Show chokeslam JBL off the top rope, through the actual canvas. Instead of dragging JBL out of the pit and pinning him (Nick Patrick was officiating in the ring), Show slowly kicked open the locked door, walked 1.3 MPH out of the opening, and slowly walked down the steps. Surprise: JBL won when he crawled into the pit, and out from under the ring.
6. TV IS BAD FOR YOU (TLC, December 14, 2014)
I feel fairly confident with the high placement of this entry. Factoring in that Dean Ambrose hasn’t won a pay-per-view bout since June 1, in spite of the favorable reception he receives for his masterful selling, mannerisms, and presentation, WWE has yet to really throw him a bone in his singles run. The ending of TLC has become a new running gag, rightfully so.
Branching off the “sudden stupidity” theory from the previous entry, Ambrose had Bray Wyatt beaten following a car-crash of a TLC match. That wasn’t enough, so Ambrose brings in a plugged-in monitor from under the ring, admires himself in it, and tries to nail Wyatt, only for the plugs to explode and blind him. Say it with me now: Sister Abigail for the pin.
Battleground wound up earning the honor of Worst WWE PPV of 2013 across most outlets, and it’s easy to see why. Other than the Rhodes Brothers taking on the Shield, everything else ranged from dull to downright bad. The PPV was the third paying installment of the Daniel Bryan/Randy Orton/Abeyance World Title angle, so at least there’d be a payoff, right?
After 20 minutes of wrestling, Bryan had Orton enveloped in the Yes Lock, only for Big Show to jog down, pull the ref, and lay out Bryan with the WMD, at the behest of Brad Maddox. Show pulled a second referee after a change of heart and then KO’ed Orton, who he was supposed to be helping. Sixty of your dollars later, and the belt remained vacant until the next PPV.
4. EARLIER SHOW STOPPER (Over the Limit, May 20, 2012)
This one features all of the elements of a bad finish: hacky comedy, a plot hole, a bad match, and a worse ending. John Laurinaitis was forced into action against John Cena, with his job on the line. Anyone who interfered would be fired. There’d be no disqualifications otherwise, allowing Cena to drag the former Johnny Ace through some ha-ha-larious predicaments.
Days before the match, a surly Laurinaitis had fired Big Show on Raw. After 15 minutes of Cena pounding Laurinaitis (he could have pinned him at any time), the VP tries to escape, only to conveniently run into a loitering Show. Show brings him back, and then KO’s Cena in a swerve. You know, after Laurinaitis nearly lost a bunch of times. Ace wins, and Show was rehired.
3. GET EM, HULK! (WrestleMania IX, April 4, 1993)
Anyone shedding tears over Hogan’s half-hearted farewell one year earlier will either be overjoyed at the end of WrestleMania IX, or be further appalled. As WWE’s roster shifted into promoting gifted workers with realistic bodies, Bret Hart became its flagbearer and World Champion. A match with portly Yokozuna at WrestleMania IX would put him over strongly.
Hart lost, somehow knocked unconscious by salt to the eyes. This brought out a suddenly-slimmer Hogan to protest this great injustice. Then Mr. Fuji stupidly challenged Hogan to a title match on the spot. Seconds later, Hogan beat Yokozuna to become champion, wiping The Hitman off the slate completely. Hogan then devalued the belt while touring New Japan.
2. STARS AND SWERVES FOREVER (SummerSlam, August 30, 1993)
After Hogan vanished following his title loss back to big Yoko, WWE did not reinsert Hart back into the picture. Instead, they stripped Lex Luger of his ho-hum Narcissist persona, costumed him in all colors Americana, effectively trying to make him the new Hogan. Luger slammed Yokozuna in a public challenge on the Fourth of July, and seemed poised to win the gold.
After Yokozuna’s spokesman Jim Cornette deemed this Lex’s *only* shot at Yokozuna, the two proceeded to actually have a good match. Luger would indeed win, but by countout. Using the steel plate in his forearm, Luger blasted Yoko and knocked him out cold, but through the ropes. Luger celebrated with other babyfaces while balloons and confetti fell, but without the title.
1. LEGACY CEMENTED (Great American Bash, June 27, 2004)
The Undertaker has had his share of unrealistic storylines, many unworthy of equaling the supernatural grace he so easily portrays. In 2004, Undertaker reassumed his ‘Dead Man’ image after a few years performing as an amped-up version of his real life grizzled biker self. With the return to the Dark Side came the package deal of far-fetched incidences as well.
At this event, Undertaker faced the Dudley Boyz in a handicap match with Paul Bearer (back on Taker’s side) sitting in a clear cubicle. If Taker didn’t lay down, Paul Heyman would authorize dumping wet cement on him. The goop built, but Taker won anyway. Then, for reasons unknown, Undertaker himself filled the cubicle, presumably killing Bearer. This wasn’t a heel turn, by the way.