Since its inception, professional wrestling has constantly evolved and changed, so much so that the sport can appear drastically different to a viewer tuning in after a decade without watching. While some of this is a result of the ebb and flow of wrestling, there are also moments that have proven pivotal in the history of the sport, sometimes in destructive ways.
Let’s take a look at 10 events that have irreparably changed aspects of the wrestling business, or damaged it, in the eyes of some fans. Many of these moments involve WWE one way or another, but other developments are not immune to these kinds of seismic swings.
10 black sabbath
Once Vince McMahon Jr. purchased WWE from his father Vince Sr., the younger McMahon began making big moves to expand the promotion beyond its Northeast turf. One such big moment involved McMahon buying a majority stake in Georgia Championship Wrestling from Gerald and Jack Brisco, thus taking over GCW’s 6:05 p.m. time slot on TBS.
The event, known as Black Saturday, saw Southern Wrasslin’ fans resist WWE’s replacement programming and eventually resulted in Jim Crockett Promotions purchasing the territory, leading to the formation of WCW.
9 Fritz von Erich’s heart attack
In the early 1980s, Texas’ world-class championship wrestling, centered around the beloved Von Erich family, was one of wrestling’s hottest territories. But as the decade wore on and several of the Von Erich brothers suffered untimely deaths, the WCCW legacy was mired in tragedy.
While fans loved the Von Erichs, patriarch Fritz Von Erich betrayed some trust in 1987 when he ran an angle in which he suffered a kayfabe heart attack in the ring. The gimmick was considered in poor taste, contributing to WCCW’s continued decline before it went out of business in 1990.
8 Jim Duggan and Iron Sheik get caught hanging out
After signing with WWE in 1987, former Mid-South Wrestling star “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan was pushed as a patriotic babyface by feuding with Iranian heel The Iron Sheik. While that kind of jingoism was still playing out with the wrestling public at the time, a real-life run-in with the law derailed that angle, and the very concept of kayfabe.
Shortly after the dispute began, Duggan and Sheik were pulled over and later arrested on drug charges. On top of that, the incident had severely broken kayfabe as these two in-ring rivals were seen hanging out behind the scenes.
7 The Hulk Hogan Steroids Controversy
In the 1980s, Hulk Hogan couldn’t go wrong with the average professional wrestling fan. The Hulkster was ridiculously over, holding the WWE Championship for four years and becoming a pop culture icon in the process.
However, in the early 1990s, WWE made headlines thanks to rampant use of illegal steroids backstage, leading to a federal case, and Hulk Hogan was among the wrestlers using performance-enhancing drugs. This was a serious blow to Hogan’s reputation and credibility as a babyface, as his personality implied being a role model who discouraged drug use.
6 the montreal betrayal
In survival series In 1997 Montreal, a title match between WWE Champion Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels seemed horribly derailed, when WWE boss Vince McMahon called for the bell on Michaels’ behalf, unbeknownst to the champion.
The incident, known as the Montreal Screwjob, caused quite a stir in the world of professional wrestling, as the beloved Hart was apparently betrayed in a way that had nothing to do with kayfabe. From there, the idea of a strict delineation between kayfabe and reality was dropped, and fans to this day have discussed various conspiracy theories surrounding the incident.
5 The Nitro of 4/1/1999
September 1995 saw the premiere of WCW’s new flagship show, monday nitrothat competed directly with that of WWE Monday night raw. For 83 weeks, nitro managed to defeat those who fight often Raw in the ratings, even as the Attitude Era was in full swing. After their 83-week streak, WCW and WWE traded ratings wins for much of 1998.
Everything changed with the episode of 4/1/1999 of nitroin which WCW scornfully gave away a major title change: Mankind won the WWE Championship, in the concurrent Raw, causing crowds of fans to change the channel. In addition to that blow to nitro‘s, the WCW show had the infamous Fingerpoke of Doom, a scripted plot twist that many fans point to as the beginning of the promotion’s drastic decline.
4 WCW kills the shoot worked
In late 1999, WCW appeared to strike a coup when it hired former Attitude Era WWE writers Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara to run the show. Unfortunately, Russo’s unfiltered antics and storytelling ticks proved to be a drag on WCW, particularly when it came to the dreaded “worked shoot.”
On countless occasions, the most notable being Beach party 2000 incident: Russo’s WCW broke the fourth wall to shock fans, but all he ultimately did was make the worked shoot pointless.
3 WWE buys WCW
Eventually, WCW became a major financial liability for Time Warner, which had brought in Turner Broadcasting in 1996. This set the stage perfectly for WWE to end what had been a thorn in the side for over half a decade by purchasing the company in 2001. .
The purchase was announced in dramatic fashion at the end of the 03/26/2001 episode of nitro, which eventually resulted in the infamous (and ultimately disappointing) Invasion storyline in WWE. Outside of that though, WWE had eliminated their only major competition, and promotions have struggled to compete ever since.
2 steve austin turns heel
the reference point wrestling 17 is considered by many fans to be the last Attitude Era WWE pay-per-view, as the aforementioned Invasion storyline happened shortly after. A classic show, this 2001 ‘Mania It ended with a shocking heel turn for WWE top star Stone Cold Steve Austin, who decided to side with his mortal nemesis, Vince McMahon.
While it came as a huge surprise, it was also incredibly unpopular with many fans, and has generally been regarded as a failure to cap off what was otherwise an incredible run for the promotion.
1 WWE establishes NXT UK
While WWE eventually became a family-owned corporate entity in the 2000s, the promotion was still no stranger to messing with the world of professional wrestling at large. After the great success of its development brand, NXT, WWE chose to expand by establishing more development territories, creating NXT UK in 2018.
Using the thriving UK wrestling scene, WWE began to lock scores of talent into exclusive contracts, eventually decimating the relatively small wrestling scene in the British Isles.
NEXT: William Regal comments on the end of NXT UK