A wise man once sang “rose tint my world keeps me safe from my trouble and pain.” And nowhere is that rose tint heavier than when looking back at the events of the past, especially our childhood. When you’re a kid you can suspend disbelief and buy into anything the writers put in front of you. You believe all sorts of weird crap as a kid. I myself believed that Frankenstein was the sequel to Young Frankenstein. I never understood the tonal shift between movies.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Both the WWE and Star Wars are living off it right now. However, not every event in wrestling history has stood the test of time.
As wrestling fans, we love a good grumble. We love to complain about poor booking and nonsense storylines. Hell, without that we here at Wrestletalk would be outta business. However, some of the most maligned events in wrestling history were well received at the time. Ok, maybe not well received but they certainly weren’t met with the vitriol we have for them today. So with that, let’s count down the Top 10 Most Hated Moments in Wrestling History we Loved as Kids.
10. The Lex Express
I’ve yet to meet a fan of Lex Luger. It’s kinda like Psycho Sid. Sure they were a big deal, but most people tend to groan and roll their eyes when they’re mentioned. In hindsight, we can see the transparent way Lex was pushed as the new Hogan. They took the “Narcissist,” draped him in an American flag, shoved him on a tour bus, and expected us all to root for him. Ridiculous, right? Not so much.
I remembered loving the Lex Express as a kid. Hogan was gone and there was no larger than life character for which to root. It was a great move to put someone in that position as quickly as possible. Children have the attention span of a goldfish with ADD. The problem is how do you do it? You make him body slam Yokozuna on an aircraft carrier, that’s how. The only way that could have been more American is if the Blue Angels had flown over during dropping Big Macs on the crowd while Rock You Like a Hurricane blares over the loudspeaker. Then, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington execute dual, flawless 900-degree spins on the halfpipe while screaming “Do the Dew!”
Even as a kid this felt like a new beginning for the federation; like they had started fresh with a new hero’s tale. Seeing him slam the foreign heel was only magnified by the military location and the freshness of the Gulf War. Jingoism was a big selling point back then, sadly. For the worst of it check out some Bugs Bunny cartoons from World War II.
9. Hogan beating Yokozuna
Unlike many of the events on this list, this moment was disgusting in hindsight. Unfortunately, the internet wasn’t a thing and we weren’t privy to all the backstage news we are now. So how could we have known that watching our greatest hero triumph was the result of some dirty backstage politicking?
If you wanna be blunt about it, this was the first time the WWE screwed Bret. That’s right. Montreal wasn’t even the OG middle finger to the ‘Hitman.’ Hogan had come back to the WWE to help his buddy Brutus the Barber Beefcake (another goofy character we loved as kids) and was mucking around fighting Money Inc.
Wrestlemania 1993 was… oof. It was bad. So very very bad. I have vivid memories of this PPV as it was the first I had ever seen. What a way to start, huh? Tatanka failed to capture gold, Hogan and Brutus failed to capture gold, and we had to watch Undertaker vs the Giant Gonzalez. Anyone who saw that match deserves an apology. Then to cap the night off, our hero Bret loses to those dastardly foreign heels. Then, out of nowhere a beacon of hope…Hulkamania, brother!
The Hulkster came out laid waste to Yokozuna, lifting everyones’ spirits after a night of heartbreak. Seriously, it was the only bright moment that night, and in hindsight, it was actually the worst thing that happened that night. Wrestlemania 1993 was so very very bad.
8. The American Bad Ass
I’m gonna have a hard time justifying this one. Hearing Limp Bizkit or Kid Rock blare every time The Undertaker was coming was a bit embarrassing because I certainly never thought I’d pop to the sounds of their subpar musical stylings.
Everything about this is cringy in retrospect. Maybe this was just Mark Calaway playing himself, but the whole thing wreaked of trying too hard. It’s like what a 4th grader thinks a tough guy is, and if you were that age at the time you probably thought this version of ‘Taker was cool as hell. The rest of us just kinda went along with it because… well it was The Undertaker.
The Dead Man had built up so much goodwill with the fans at that point he could have come out in an apron, called himself The Under-Baker and we woulda eaten it up like the warm brioche he’d bring to ringside. Though there are long-lasting ramifications… I mean Kid Rock is in the WWE Hall of Fame. However, much like Robert Downey Jr., post-Iron Man, ‘Taker can do no wrong.
7. Papa Shango
Charles Wright is a trooper. The man took every gimmick handed to him and made them successful. Sure Wright never got to the main event, but staying in the mid-card, and remaining, not only a fan favorite but credible, is damn near impossible today. The man was underrated and today many like to scoff at the Papa Shango character. Even I’ve used it as the punch line to many a joke, but it outta love, I swear.
As a child, I loved the Ultimate Warrior, because, again, kids are stupid. Seeing Papa Shango come to the ringside, chant, and cause black ichor to flow from the Warrior’s scalp was terrifying. It was real. As real as the Ninja Turtles and Santa Clause… so 100% real.
The Ultimate Warrior had been, like Hogan, an unstoppable force for good. He was a superhero kids could count on to always win the day. Then he was doubled over with cramps because the Voodoo man put a spell on him. How could he fight back?
Well, we never found out because the character fizzled out, but at that moment he was scarier than ‘Taker ever was.
6. Bizarre & Elaborate matches
I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure Dusty Rhodes is responsible for this entry being on the list. Wrestling in the 90s saw some really weird matches, and WCW was the largest culprit of this. Just think about War Games for a second and how mental it is.
Now, WCW didn’t start it, I blame Scaffold Matches personally, but they certainly made absurd into an art form. Take Dustin Rhodes vs Blacktop Bully in the King of the Road match. It took place on a moving trailer and both men were too busy trying not to die to do any wrestling. Kinda like jobbers in the ring with the APA.
What about the Mega Powers vs the Alliance to End Hulkamania inside that three cell monstrosity. Could you imagine watching that confusing garbage live? At least now the WWE is content with seeing how big of a battle royal they can have and we aren’t getting any Judy Bagwell on a Pole matches.
As daft as these matches are, as kids we loved them. I rarely watched WCW but would try to catch War Games if I could. I didn’t know all the wrestlers but the spectacle of it all made it enthralling. This is why so many of us bemoan the lack of pyrotechnics. We love it when wrestling is over-the-top sometimes.
5. Wrestlers with Jobs/ Simple Gimmicks
Ok, Duke ‘the Dumpster’ Droese isn’t gonna make any top 10 greatest wrestlers list, I’ll admit it. However, as a kid having every wrestler possess a single defining characteristic made it easy to separate and understand things. This guy was a scary pallbearer, this guy was a racecar driver, these guys are cops (Canadian and American), and this one an IRS agent. Damn the 90s were weird.
Even gimmicks we love today were simpler back then. Yokozuna was a sumo wrestler, Tatanka was a Native American warrior, Shawn Michaels was a ladies man, and Bret Hart was… Ok, Bret was always just Bret. No one thought the ‘Hitman’ was taking out targets in Nicaragua when he wasn’t fighting Owen or Jerry Lawler. However, my point remains, giving characters a simple gimmick, like defining them by a job, worked for child viewers.
I still think the simple, distinct gimmick is more interesting than random guy #187 in briefs with a tribal design. Randy Orton has that market cornered. Though, it’s probably best we never relive The Goon or Isaac Yankem.
4. Taker vs Taker
There’s something that gets glossed over when talking about how amazing The Undertaker, and ever Kane, are. Their stature. The closest I’ve been to ‘Taker was about 30 yards and even at that distance, he was a mountain of a human being. This is one of the reasons the imposter matches don’t work. The men they get to play the imposter is not nearly as physically imposing as the real thing.
Remember when Luke Gallows was masquerading around as the fake Kane. First, the Cher wig they had him wear was ridiculous. Second, Gallows is five inches shorter than Glen Jacobs. It was noticeable and looked goofy when Imposter Kane was “intimidating” the real Kane. Then there was ‘Taker vs ‘Taker, where the fake ‘Taker was a good two inches shorter than the real Undertaker.
However, as a kid, seeing ‘Taker fall prey to the Million Dollar man was devastating. Ted DeBiase was an excellent villain on par with every rich jerk who tried to close down a youth center in an 80s movie. We hated Ted and we hated him controlling The Undertaker even more.
So, when Paul Bearer said he’d bring the real Undertaker back to destroy the imposter we all felt hope spring up in our young, naive, little chests. I don’t remember the match but do remember begging my parents to buy the PPV (something that rarely ever happened) and having a WWE magazine previewing the match. I was super pumped for it at the time, but the fact that it leaves no lasting impression probably says all you need to know.
3. Raunch & Sleaze
…crap. Well, let’s see if I can navigate this in today’s climate. I’m a white, Christian, middle-class, male. We never end up in trouble for saying ignorant crap. Raunch and sleaze are hard to defend, people, and I’m probably not the best person to try. As stated above, I’m rarely the target discrimination and the exploitative nature of raunch and sleaze is sometimes hard to grasp for those not hurt by it. That being said let me attempt to make a case for it.
The Attitude Era was incredibly exploitative of women. No one is gonna try to justify the “Ho Train.” However, I was in 6th grade (12 years old) when WWE Shotgun Saturday Night debuted. The tone for the show and the WWE going forward was set when Marlena flashed The Sultan to give Goldust the distraction. That moment was thrilling and not just because of boobies.
For those of us born in the 80s, hitting our teen year in the late 90s, the WWE seemed to be growing up with us. It had gone from a kids’ show to the kinda raunchy, edgy crap that a teen thinks is cool. In hindsight, it’s embarrassing, but then again who isn’t embarrassed about their time in middle school. I wore Jncos for goodness sake. 34″ waist, 40″opening at the leg. I looked like Gumby.
2. The Invasion
You know what? I don’t feel the least bad about defending this one. The WCW invasion of WWF was freakin’ awesome at the time. I’m sure you’ve all watched a billion videos on YouTube about what a bungled mess the whole thing was, but if you weren’t there, you don’t know how amazing it was when it happened. It was the culmination of everything we’d been watching for over a decade.
Every night during the Monday Nights Wars you’d flip back and forth between the shows and debate with your friends over what would happen if WCW wrestlers took on WWE wrestlers. For years the closest we’d get was someone defecting to the other side. I remember The Big Show and Chris Jericho coming over and losing my adolescent mind. When the Radicalz appeared sitting at ringside I was happier than a neckbeard buying a waifu pillow.
So, when the Monday Night War was won (and I was WWE all the way) and we finally got a merger between the two, it was like all of our dreams had come true. Sure we didn’t get any big names and the matches we did have were crap but we didn’t care. We lapped up every second of it overjoyed that WCW and WWE were finally facing off.
Like The Last Jedi, it didn’t matter that it sucked, it was an event we’d been waiting practically our whole lives in which to be a part. It was like waiting forever for Avengers: Endgame, but not knowing if it was ever actually being made.
Two quick asides:
I stated I was WWE all the way and that’s true even today. I joke about Vince McMahon because… well it’s funny and easy sometimes. But at the end of the day, regardless of what we think of the product today, the man has given us so many historical moments. Think of all the magic and emotion you’ve got out of the WWE over the years and Vinny Mac deserves as much credit for that as he does blame for when things don’t go so well (i.e. the Fiend losing at Hell in a Cell).
And to clarify about The Last Jedi, before someone accuses me of all sorts of things… My ire with the movie has nothing to do with any of the political or social commentaries. Sure, Luke dying before doing anything cool annoys me, but my real problem is with Laura Dern’s suicide run at the end. If that hyperspeed battering ram works, then why didn’t they just program a droid ship to do that to the Death Star? They broke space battles and destroying your own lore something I can’t reconcile.
I see your eyebrows raised higher than the Rock’s. What the hell is the NWO doing on this list you’re asking. Certainly, we don’t hate on the NWO! Yeah about that… go scour YouTube and see how many videos you find about how toxic the backstage politicking was in the NWO and backstage WCW. There are even more videos condemning Nash, Hall, and/or Hogan for various things. Especially Hogan, and rightfully so.
Admittedly, the NWO became a juggernaut that ended up doing way more harm than good to the WCW, but when it all kicked off it was revolutionary. The Outsiders made wrestling feel real again as kayfabe was dying. Hulk Hogan turning heel was something we never saw coming and breathed new life into his career.
The NWO was so interesting that I even started flipping to Nitro when Raw went to commercial. I even watched a few episodes of Thunder, God, help me. The NWO garnered interest in the WCW in a way rehashing 80s Hulkamania never would. It spurned on the Monday Night Wars and gave us some of the greatest moments in wrestling history as both sides pushed the limits.
The NWO may have been the backstage cancer that started killing WCW, but what a hell of a way to go.
That’s it for our list. Are there any other maligned events in wrestling history you loved at the time? Let us know on Twitter.