Moments That Changed WWE History

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The WWE is one of the world’s most iconic sporting franchises. It’s had its ups and downs; the glory of the Attitude Era is where the WWE peaked for many, but it would be unfair to view things in such a simplistic way. The fact is that throughout the WWE’s history, there have been several moments that have completely changed the course of not only the corporation itself, but of wrestling as a whole. Here, in no particular order of time or importance, are just some of our favourite moments that changed the course of WWE history.


WWE SmackDown! launches, 1999


Prior to the advent of WWE SmackDown!, wrestling was pretty much a niche hobby, enjoyed by some but not really appreciated by the masses. SmackDown! changed all that. It debuted on UPN between 8pm and 10pm, which meant many Americans who had previously had no exposure whatsoever to wrestling were now suddenly aware of the WWE brand. This happened in 1999, so the Attitude Era was well underway, but this new show was a pivotal part of what made that era of wrestling so very successful.


“Hacksaw” Jim Duggan wins the first Royal Rumble, 1988


The first Royal Rumble program debuted in 1988, when “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan was in the prime of his career (actually, this was a short while after he was arrested for carrying drugs in a car with The Iron Sheik, which was a serious hit to his wrestling career). Duggan himself says the Royal Rumble is “like the Wild West”; all bets are off and everyone is just trying to win. However, Duggan emerged victorious from the inaugural Royal Rumble, proving that he was still a contender even if he was ageing a little.


The Four Horsemen stable forms, 1986


When The Four Horsemen stable formed, wrestling had seen its fair share of tag teams, but none of them were as star-studded (or as unstoppably influential) as this one. The Four Horsemen, which consisted of Tully Blanchard, Ole and Arn Anderson, and legendary Superstar Ric Flair (plus manager James Dillon), steamrolled their way over the WWE, gaining serious clout in the process. They arguably paved the way for major stables like D-Generation X and Evolution.


WCW merges with WWE, 2001


Many people like to point to the buying out of Ted Turner’s Time Warner by AOL as the final nail in WCW’s coffin, but the truth is the wrestling promotion had been struggling for quite a few years prior to this moment. However, this certainly was the point at which the WCW died as we knew it. AOL decided to sell the WCW as it didn’t fit with their chosen image, and Vince McMahon bought up the promotion, bringing across some of its talent – like wrestlers Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page – as well.


The Montreal Screwjob, 1997


Any WWE fan worth their salt knows the Montreal Screwjob. It’s arguably one of the most electrifying and cringeworthy moments in sports TV history, and it solidified Vince McMahon’s reputation as a hard businessman. Bret Hart faced off against Shawn Michaels in his hometown of Montreal. Hart was trapped in Michaels’ Sharpshooter and hadn’t tapped out when McMahon called for the bell. This unscripted moment prompted Hart to mime the letters “WCW” to the cameras, then punch McMahon backstage.

The first WrestleMania, 1985

It’s almost unbelievable that the first ever WrestleMania took place in 1985, but it’s true. WrestleMania I was also the first major wrestling pay-per-view event, informing the financial model of the franchise for years to come. The main event saw Hulk Hogan teaming up with The A Team’s Mr T to defeat Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. Celebrities like Liberace, Muhammad Ali, and Billy Martin also made appearances, making this a truly star-studded event.


Piper’s Pit, 1984


Today, sports entertainment commentary has some flavour to it, and we have “Rowdy” Roddy Piper to thank for that, at least in part. Piper’s Pit was a chat segment on the WWE (then the WWF) that saw Piper talking to some of the biggest luminaries in the wrestling world. These included Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, and Jimmy Snuka, as well as non-wrestling adjacent celebrities like Morton Downey Jr. It’s hard to watch today, but Piper’s Pit is one of the funniest and most shocking spots wrestling TV has ever seen.


The Rock hosts SNL, 2000


In 2000, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was…well, it would be inappropriate to describe him as “at the peak of his powers”, because he doesn’t seem to have descended from that peak for many years. At that time, though, he was young and hungry, and SNL proved the perfect proving ground for him. He ushered in an era in which wrestling superstars could branch out from their chosen field and pursue careers in acting and other areas; because The Rock had such incredible charisma, stars like John Cena and Becky Lynch have been able to pursue external careers too.


ECW goes hardcore, 1994


1994 proved to be a pivotal moment for the world of professional wrestling. Shane Douglas’ ceremonial discarding of the Eastern Championship Wrestling NWA title belt led to the birth of Extreme Championship Wrestling, as Paul Heyman drifted in and more and more extreme weapons were being allowed for use in the ring. WWE responded in kind, leading to the creation of its Hardcore stipulation and the rise of Superstars like Ken Shamrock and Steve Blackman.