As wrestling fans know, nostalgia is a huge part of the wrestling culture. You can barely go a single day without someone talking about how good things used to be. What a lot of fans don’t realize is how often we come across an anniversary of some major event. Since this week is three years since I started writing this column, I thought it might be interesting to look at some anniversaries from this time of year. As it turns out, there are four of them in a two day span, all of which are either historic or just something cool that you might have overlooked.
June 27, 2002: John Cena Debuts
The two proceeded to have a heck of a match, running about five and a half minutes. While Cena was pinned (as he should be when facing a former multiple time World Champion in his debut match), he showed a remarkable amount of potential and you could feel the energy coming off of him throughout the match. However, in addition to the match itself, there were two keys after the match was over that made this even better than it was on its own.
First of all, Cena extended his hand to Angle after Angle pinned him. Angle refused the handshake and walked away but as soon he was away from Cena’s line of sight, he breathed a heavy sigh of relief. After a commercial break, Cena went to the back where a host of wrestlers offered their praise, though the final name was bigger than the rest: the Undertaker, the reigning WWE World Heavyweight Champion (and, you know, the Undertaker), shook Cena’s hand and told him it was a job well done.
That’s actually quite the accomplishment and something you’ll probably never see again. When you debut in WWE, it’s rare that you’re going to get anything near this strong of a debut night. Look at Shinsuke Nakamura, who debuted with a lot more fanfare than Cena. Nakamura debuted and was immediately starting to deal with Dolph Ziggler. Cena got two of the best of all time and a chance to show just how good he was. It was clear they saw something in Cena, though I doubt anyone knew that he was going to be one of the biggest stars in history.
June 27, 2011: CM Punk Drops the Pipebomb
Unlike Cena where you knew it could be something important because of how the man was introduced, this was one where you knew it was big, but I don’t think anyone knew how big. On an episode of “Monday Night Raw” in Las Vegas, Punk attacked Cena and cost him a tables match against R-Truth. What followed was one of those moments that got everyone talking in a hurry.
Punk proceeded to go on the rant of a lifetime, venting frustrations about how WWE operated, how Cena was only in his spot because of how much he sucked up to Vince McMahon, how he was going to take the WWE World Title from Cena at “Money in the Bank 2011” and even threatening to take it either New Japan or Ring of Honor after his contract expired after the end of the pay per view.
To say this promo changed the way things worked around WWE is the understatement of the year. Punk was instantly the hottest character the company had seen in years and people were drooling over what he was going to do or say next. The fact that the match was going to be a classic (which it wound up being) had no bearing on anything. It was all about Punk and what he had to say.
Above all else though, this played a huge role in the fans rebelling against the WWE’s status quo. The fans started thinking more for themselves and arguing about what they were being given by the company. While these things had started before, this speech was the boost that they needed to really go somewhere. Punk became the Voice of the Voiceless and the people started letting him voice their frustrations, which have certainly caused their share of issues since. However, the initial speech was one of the most entertaining things to air on WWE in years and it still holds up to this day.
June 28, 1998: King of the Ring 1998 (Undertaker vs. Mankind in the Cell)
I’ve seen this match at least a dozen times and every time I see the highlights, I still have no idea how Mick Foley survived, let alone finished the match. Think about this for a second: a 6’4 probably 300lb man went flying off the top of a sixteen foot high cell and crashed through a table that might have been three feet off the ground and covered in equipment. If that wasn’t enough, he was chokeslammed through the roof of the cell and crashed down to the mat, probably twelve feet below. This is in addition to actually wrestling the rest of the match, which ran about seventeen minutes in total.
I mean……wow. There’s a reason that the video of Foley flying off the Cell is probably the most played clip in wrestling history. Of all the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of matches that have taken place over the years, I have never seen a beating like that, nor have I ever seen anything that resembles Foley’s effort in surviving it. Very simply put, Foley probably should have never wrestled again but somehow he finished the match and was WWF World Champion by the end of the year.
The rest of the match is what I think people forget about. Not only do you have the Cell Dive and the chokeslam through the cell (which was unplanned), but Undertaker breaks a foot, throws Foley into a pile of thumbtacks and uses whatever other forms of violence he can think of. This eventually results in Foley’s tooth sticking out of his nose. Let me say that again: his tooth was in his NOSE.
If there’s a match that showcases how completely insane a wrestler is more than that performance in Pittsburgh, I have no idea what it could be. It really is something that has to be seen to be believed but that being said, I don’t know if it’s something that everyone is capable of sitting through given the level of violence.
June 28, 1999: Steve Austin vs. Undertaker
Here’s the forgotten one but perhaps the most impressive. Following losing his control of the company the previous night at “King of the Ring 1999”, Austin announced that he had booked himself a WWF World Title match for the following “Monday Night Raw”. In other words, you were guaranteed Austin, who had been champion earlier in the year, was getting a chance to become champion again that very night.
As you might expect, the fans were right there to watch the whole thing. By that I mean a lot of fans, as in more than ever tuned in to watch a wrestling match in the history of cable television. The match drew a 9.5 rating and 10.72 MILLION viewers. To put this in perspective, that would be more than the combined audience for “Smackdown Live” in all of June 2017.
What I find interesting in this is the time period where it took place. This was during the Attitude Era, the most famous time in the history of professional wrestling. What makes this interesting is the fact that the Attitude Era isn’t exactly known for its wrestling quality. This time period was mostly known for its crazy antics and over the top segments, many of which had little to do with wrestling.
That’s right: the biggest thing in the entire era and the segment that drew the biggest audience (both of that era and ever for “Monday Night Raw”) was a wrestling match between the top face and the heel World Champion. No matter how you want to present it or how you want to call it something else, wrestling matches are a big part of why people tune in and if you present a big one with major implications, people will show up and show up in droves.
The wrestling calendar is full of things like this, with all kinds of things showing up that you might not have thought about in years. It could be anything from a birthday to an anniversary of a match or promo, but wrestling is full of history from a bunch of different promotions. There’s a lot of fun to be had in wrestling history and it’s worth your time to check it out and find something you haven’t before.
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