10 moments you never expected to see in WWE
It’s a well-known fact that anything can happen in WWE. Shock and awe is a typical characteristic of every WWE event, but there are some moments throughout history that the WWE Universe thought would never happen.
From astonishing returns to impossible reunions, WWE Classics examines 10 incidents that were shocking, unexpected and, ultimately, history making. And you never saw them coming.
Shawn Michaels returns from a career-ending back injury
During a brutal Casket Match against The Undertaker at Royal Rumble 1998, Shawn Michaels flipped over the top rope and awkwardly landed on the edge of the coffin. Although the battle continued, HBK later discovered that he suffered a serious back injury that would ultimately force his early retirement. HBK served as WWE Commissioner and occasionally made appearances on Raw and SmackDown, but he was unable to compete actively.
In 2002, HBK returned to WWE, first joining The New World Order before realigning with his best friend Triple H. Following an apparent D-Generation X reunion, The Game turned on his friend, brutally attacking him and citing Michaels’ refusal to be The Cerebral Assassin’s manager. In response, HBK decided to shock the entire world and challenge Triple H to an unsanctioned Street Fight at SummerSlam 2002. Not only did the WWE Hall of Famer compete at a level on par with his pre-injury status, but he also defeated The Game and restarted his legendary career.
Ric Flair brings the “real” World Title to WWE
After weeks of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan claiming that “the real World Champion” was coming to WWE, the entire wrestling world was utterly shocked when Ric Flair arrived on Prime Time Wrestling in September 1991. Not only did “The Nature Boy’s” first WWE appearance send shockwaves throughout sports-entertainment, but he was also still the reigning NWA/WCW World Heavyweight Champion and he was bringing the title with him.
At the time, the “Big Gold Title” was representative of the NWA/WCW World Title and Flair and Heenan proudly displayed it on WWE programming — much to the ire of NWA. Seeing the NWA Champion — title in tow — on WWE television was one of the most unexpected and shocking moments in the history of sports-entertainment. But the scenario was so controversial that WWE was forced to blur images of Flair’s title due to threat of legal action.
Brock Lesnar returns to WWE
The night after John Cena fell to The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII, Cena wanted to congratulate The People’s Champ. However, it wasn’t The Rock who stepped into the ring to confront the Cenation leader. Instead, it was a WWE Superstar whose career began roughly around the same time as Cena’s, a former WWE Champion who had not been seen in sports-entertainment for eight years — Brock Lesnar.
The WWE Universe came unglued at The Anomaly’s surprise return. The freak athlete who had most recently dominated the mixed martial arts world was all but done with WWE and had given no hints that he planned on ever coming back. But there he was on Raw, blasting the Cenation leader with a powerful F-5. In the year that followed, the dangerous Superstar broke Shawn Michaels’ arm, sent Triple H into retirement and forced Mr. McMahon into surgery to replace his hip after an F-5.
The nWo invades WWE
Following WWE’s successful deterring of the WCW/ECW Alliance in 2001, Mr. McMahon thought he regained full control of WWE from his children, Shane and Stephanie McMahon. But Shane and Stephanie sold their stock in the company to a consortium — namely Ric Flair — making The Nature Boy the co-owner of WWE. Unwilling to work with Flair, The Chairman decided that he needed to inject a lethal poison and kill his creation. Mr. McMahon’s venom came in the form of “Hollywood” Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall — the original New World Order.
At No Way Out 2002, the three individuals who founded the faction that dominated WCW in the late 1990s arrived. The fact that The Hulkster was back in WWE after nearly a decade was surreal enough. When the arena was glazed over in black and white and The nWo’s unmistakable theme music played, however, the WWE Universe rubbed their eyes and pinched themselves, ensuring what they witnessed wasn’t a dream. Shortly thereafter, a moment that seemed impossible just a few months earlier happened as The Rock battled Hogan at WrestleMania X-8.
The Rock returns to face John Cena
On June 27, 2002, John Cena made his explosive WWE debut on SmackDown, answering a challenge from Kurt Angle. As Cena’s WWE career began, The Rock was making a transition to Hollywood and soon entered retirement following WrestleMania XX in 2004. As Cena established himself as the next great WWE Superstar, many of the competitors that defined The Attitude Era were gone. Of course, Cena battled Triple H and Shawn Michaels, but the prospect of witnessing the Cenation leader square off against The Rock or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was reserved for discussion on Internet message boards.
After being named the host of WrestleMania XXVII, however, The Great One injected himself into Cena’s bout against The Miz and delivered a Rock Bottom to the Cenation leader, costing him the match. The next night, The People’s Champ challenged Cena to a match at WrestleMania XXVIII and a year of anticipation began. A record number of viewers tuned into The Show of Shows in Miami to see The Rock return to the ring against Cena in a truly epic showdown. The feelings felt at WrestleMania X-8 when The Great One faced Hulk Hogan were revisited as two eras of WWE again clashed.
Mr. McMahon, Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff together in the same ring
Upon learning of an impending pay-per-view featuring the original Superstars of ECW, then–Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff vowed to ensure the event — ECW One Night Stand — would not take place. On May 23, 2005, Bischoff held a funeral service for ECW on Raw to further his efforts to destroy the brand. But Mr. McMahon interrupted the former WCW President and expressed his own support for the event. What followed would have been unfathomable just five years prior.
ECW’s former owner Paul Heyman entered the ring to confront Bischoff and for the first time, the three individuals responsible for the most influential wrestling organizations of sports-entertainment’s biggest boom period stood in the very same ring. It was an unforgettable moment as Heyman berated Bischoff while Mr. McMahon watched. Of course, at this point The Chairman owned both ECW and WCW, but in the 1990s the three organizations launched sports-entertainment to unparalleled heights, making the moment all the more surreal.
Bruno Sammartino accepts a WWE Hall of Fame induction
For many years, the longest-reigning WWE Champion in history — Bruno Sammartino — has been outspoken in his general aversion to the direction of sports-entertainment since his heyday. Thus, “The Living Legend” has turned down offers to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, leaving a sizeable gap in the annals of the prestigious institution that could only be filled by one of the greatest Superstars of all time.
In 2013, the WWE Universe was stunned to learn that Sammartino had accepted an invitation from WWE COO Triple H to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. The news sent shockwaves through WWE and the entire sports community. Finally, the Superstar who sold out Madison Square Garden 187 times would take his rightful place in history.
Mr. McMahon hugs Eric Bischoff
As President of WCW, Eric Bischoff turned the Ted Turner–owned organization into a television ratings giant and nearly destroyed WWE in the process. “Sleazy-E’s” strategy of revealing Raw results, publically berating Mr. McMahon and giving The New World Order free reign paid off for a total of 88 weeks. Following Bischoff’s removal as WCW President, the brand steadily declined and never reclaimed its former glory — even when he was brought back to try and revive it alongside Vince Russo. Alas, WWE acquired the organization in 2001 and it seemed Bischoff was a relic of sports-entertainment history.
On July 15, 2002, Mr. McMahon readied the WWE Universe for the announcement of Raw’s new General Manager. When it came time to reveal the individual in charge of Raw, every jaw dropped as Eric Bischoff stepped out onto the Raw set. What was even more unexpected was the way The Chairman embraced the man who only years prior had tried to put him out of business.
Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart reconcile in a WWE ring
The Montreal Screwjob remains the most infamous moment in sports-entertainment history. The unceremonious WWE departure of Bret “Hit Man” Hart in 1997 has been analyzed, investigated and debated tirelessly to this very day. Hart joined WCW shortly after his WWE departure before a concussion forced a premature retirement. For more than a decade, “Hit Man” refused to work with WWE save for a WWE Hall of Fame induction in 2006.
On January 4, 2010, the WWE Universe was in disbelief when Hart finally returned to Monday Night Raw. The former WWE Champion’s first order of business was to call out his opponent from that November night in Montreal — Shawn Michaels. HBK’s role in the Screwjob has always been a subject of scrutiny, but nearly 13 years later, he stared his former rival in the face to discuss the incident. Some fans might have expected Hart to punch Michaels, but instead, the two Superstars shook hands and embraced — finally putting the animosity and the events that transpired at Survivor Series 1997 to rest.
Shane McMahon appears on WCW Monday Nitro
On March 26, 2001, the famed Monday Night War officially came to an end. After failing to recover their once mighty television ratings, WCW broadcast the final episode of Monday Nitro. After rumors circulated through the sports-entertainment community for days, it was confirmed that evening that WWE had indeed acquired its greatest rival. Throughout the night, Mr. McMahon appeared on Raw and expressed his joy about owning the very organization that nearly destroyed his creation.
As the two programs came to a close, a once-in-a-lifetime simulcast occurred as The Chairman appeared on Raw and Nitro at the same time. Viewers who had spent years flipping back and forth between WWE and WCW programming never thought they’d see Mr. McMahon on both shows at once. As Mr. McMahon entered the ring on Raw, however, Shane McMahon made his way to the ring on Nitro. It was surreal enough that a McMahon was appearing inside a WCW ring, but Shane-O Mac’s announcement that he purchased WCW out from under his father created a whole new era in sports-entertainment.