Sure we all know the deal about pro wrestling. The cat was let out of the bag a long time ago. Yet even sometimes the match planned in the back has taken a serious detour in the ring. Here is a look at ten instances when the “fake” pro wrestling got very real inside of the ring.
Nobody is trying to insult anyone’s intelligence here with pro wrestling. It’s a work and that has been documented long enough. But what happens when one wrestler isn’t playing ball with the other? What happened was chaos, unpredictability, intensity, and even fear when a planned match turns shoot. You want to see fear in a pro wrestler’s eyes? Wait until that wrestler realizes his opponent isn’t pulling punches and you will see some of the biggest, meanest, and intimidating individuals change their body language immediately.
Lex Luger vs. Bruiser Brody: This match is legendary for the swerve that Brody pulled on Luger and Luger’s reaction. The match took place in Florida right before Lex jumped to Jim Crockett Promotions. Brody didn’t sell a thing for Luger who was locked in a cage with the mad man. Knowing what was coming, Luger scaled the cage, walked to the back, grabbed his stuff, and immediately left the building. So why was Brody uncooperative with the Florida territory’s biggest star? Apparently Lex had been shooting (no pun intended) his mouth off in the locker room about his new deal with JCP and what a big star he was and word got back to the big Bruiser.
Strangler Lewis vs. Henri DeGlane: For wrestling fans like me who follow history, this match is also legendary. The match took place in 1931 so the only evidence of the story is word of mouth. DeGlane was a 1924 Olympic gold medalist and a big star in Montreal. Lewis was coming in as defending world champion and expected to win the best of three falls match. During this era wrestlers would go back to the locker room between falls. As legend goes DeGlane bit himself in the locker room between the second and third fall near his armpit and drew blood. He came back to the match with his arm covered. As the third fall began DeGlane grabbed a headlock and brought Lewis out the middle of the ring. DeGlane dropped to the mat and started screaming, revealing the blood to the referee. Seeing teeth marks, the referee disqualified Lewis and awarded the world title to DeGlane in what was probably the biggest swerve in the history of the wrestling business. According to legend Lewis was so irate that he went after the promoter in the locker room but was stopped by several bodyguards, none named Shane.
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels: I would be surprised if most people reading this blog weren’t aware of this infamous incident in Montreal. Bret was the WWE champion leaving for WCW. Bret had refused to lose the match to Shawn Michaels. The match itself was no shoot in that both guys worked well together up until the finish. The finish is another story. As most of you know by now Bret was supposed to reverse Shawn in the Sharpshooter. Instead the referee indicated that Bret had given up and Vince McMahon rang the bell. Bret was furious and punched out Vince after the match.
John Tenta vs. Koji Kitao: Long before the Earthquake made waves in the WWF, John Tenta was a major star in Japan. He returned as part of the WWF/SWS super show and took on another famous former sumo star, Koji Kitao who achieved superstar status in the sport. I haven’t been able to grasp exactly why things broke down but it all appears to go back to Kitao having a problem with Tenta. Kitao no-sold early. Eventually the two had a showdown in the ring with Tenta yelling, “this is pro wrestling!” Kitao allegedly told the crowd after the match that “wrestling is fake.”
Akira Maeda vs. Riki Choshu: This was actually a six-man tag team match but it was the rivalry between Choshu and Maeda that turned this pro wrestling match real. Maeda was a young, rising star in New Japan pro wrestling who was frustrated by the politics at the time. Jonathon Snowden tells the story in his book about Shooters. Snowden recalls that Maeda was upset when Choshu was brought back to NJPW, angry that he was one spot back from the top. During the six-man tag, Choshu had Osamu Kido in a scorpion death lock as Maeda laid in a brutal roundhouse kick at full speed to Choshu’s face, breaking Choshu’s orbital bone. Maeda left and restarted UWF several months later.
Stanislaus Zbysko vs. Wayne Munn: We go way back in time again for another one of pro wrestling’s historic shoot matches. Munn was a big boy as legend has it, wrestled for Strangler Lewis’ group, college athlete, but had no real shoot wrestling experience in his background. Legend has it that Zbysko was paid off by rival Lewis’ rival Joe Stecher to take the world title from Munn the hard way. Munn was scheduled to keep the world title but that didn’t happen. The match according to legend saw Zbysko refuse to cooperate with Munn and pin him over and over again until a surprised referee counted to three and Zbysko left with the world title in another one of wrestling’s biggest screw jobs.
Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki: This is arguably most historic MMA match in history. The story has been told many times, so much that an entire Wiki page exists on the match. The basic gist is that in the days leading up to the match Ali tried to renegotiate the rules and put limitations on Inoki. Inoki wasn’t allowed to throw, tackle, grapple, or land kicks on Ali. Ali’s team wanted the rules private for those reasons. According to journalist Jim Murphy, the plan was for Inoki to win. The finish was supposed to involve a ref bump with the ref waking up and counting the pin on Ali. Ali reportedly refused as the match got closer and that is where it all came apart. The match itself was boring, yet incredibly intense. Inoki laid on the ground most of the early part of the match kicking at Ali. Some punches were thrown but in the end they went to a fifteen round decision in one of the most disappointing MMA matches of all-time.
Andre the Giant vs. Akira Maeda: Big can be more inviting than intimidating depending upon who you are standing across the ring from. There are mixed opinions of this match over the years with some claiming that this was a worked shoot. One version is that neither man wanted to lose the match. Another version was that Antonio Inoki booked Andre to “teach Maeda a lesson.” This is more plausible. Maeda returned to NJPW from UWF with a ton of heat for mocking the “fake” NJPW style. Regardless, Andre showed Maeda early that he wasn’t playing ball and no-sold Maeda. In turn, Maeda began kicking him in the legs. Maeda wasn’t as gutsy to get on the ground with Andre. Antonio Inoki wound up coming out and stopping the match after it came to a standstill long enough.
Antonio Inoki vs. The Great Antonio: This is a You Tube classic although the 1977 match itself is pretty terrible, as most shoots usually are. This was the typical Inoki freak show with Inoki being promoted against a Strongman champion. Great Antonio completely no-sold an Inoki kick which was where things got real quick. Antonio mocked Inoki and proceeded to take liberties with Inoki and punch him in the back of the head. Inoki gets annoyed and this where things get real. Inoki took the best the Great Antonio had to offer until Inoki just went to town and kicked the crap out of the Great Antonio. There have been different versions of what exactly happened with some saying Inoki was a bully but an objective eye can see different when you watch the match.
Bonus – Wendi Richter vs. The Spider Lady: I hesitated throwing this one on the list because there really wasn’t much of a shoot here. The story goes that Richter was being difficult at the time with management so the office swerved her and sent the Fabulous Moolah out there under the Spider Lady costume to take the title from Richter. Once Richter knew what was up she fully cooperated and Moolah wound up beating her for the title. The reason I was hesitant about adding this was that the entire match was worked and Richter went down without a problem. However there was a swerve here and it is one of the most famous in pro wrestling history, thus it makes the list.