Editorial Columns

Ten Times When Hell Froze Over In Wrestling

William counts down the Top 10 moments in WWE when it seemed hell had frozen over.

Photo © WWE

When it was revealed that Jeff Jarrett was being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, my first reaction was shock.

I thought Double J was forever going to be on the outside looking in when it came to anything WWE related. I even used the phrase “hell froze over” when describing the situation. That sparked a thought in my mind. How many of these “never-say-never” situations have we seen in WWE? Or, in other words, how many times has hell frozen over in the WWE? Let’s count them down, shall we?

 

10. Christian Wins The WWE World Title (TWICE!)

Christian’s World Title win in 2011 came after the emotional retirement of his best friend, Edge. Edge was the reigning WWE World Champion at the time of his retirement (the only World Champion in WWE history to retire with the title) and his abrupt exit from active competition left the title up for grabs. Christian won a battle royal on Smackdown to earn the right to face then number one contender Alberto Del Rio in a ladder match for the vacant title. With a little assistance from Edge, Christian won the match and captured his first World Title in WWE (no, ECW titles don’t count).

The win was a special moment and was a well deserved accomplishment for Christian. It was also, however, a moment that many thought would never happen. Why? Because Vince McMahon pretty much hated Christian. Not his in ring work or even his promo skills, just his face. Former WWE lead writer Alex Greenfield once said that Vince told him, “I just don’t like his face. His face really bothers me.” Vince had stated that he thought Christian had the worst headshot pictures of anyone he’d ever seen and wanted to cover his face with a blue dot on WWE television. In fact, rumor has it that Vince had even claimed in the past that Christian would never be a World Champ in the WWE.

But at some point, that obviously changed (although I should point out that there’s no clip of Christian winning the title for the first time on WWE’s YouTube. Maybe it’s because of his face?). Christian won the World Title twice in 2011, and has said that Vince actually told him prior to his Extreme Rules match, “I dare you to steal the show.” Whatever caused the change of heart is unknown, but it makes this list because it once seemed it was never going to happen. But then it did and hell got a little nip in the air.

 

9. Black Saturday

Surprisingly, Black Saturday is NOT the term used by wrestling fans to describe the time Jay Leno once made Hulk Hogan wither in pain from a wrist lock, although that was a dark time indeed for wrestling. No, Black Saturday describes the event that took place on Saturday, July 14, 1984 when Vince McMahon and the WWF debuted on TBS’ World Championship Wrestling program in place of Georgia Championship Wrestling. Viewers were equally shocked and outraged that Vince McMahon’s “circus show” had taken over their “rasslin” spot.

The thing that makes this so shocking is the fact that Ted Turner, the owner of TBS, was able to build his business and eventual media empire off the back of Georgia Championship Wrestling. The history of Turner and Wrestling went back quite some time. In 1969, Turner purchased a local Atlanta television station WJRJ and renamed it WTCG (Watch This Channel Grow). The station aired little to no first-run content until 1972, when Turner purchased the television rights to Georgia Championship Wrestling from another Atlanta station, WQXI (now known as WXIA). The GCW show became the flagship broadcast for the network, which eventually grew to carry Atlanta Braves games before being broadcast nationwide via cable in 1976.

The cable station, initially known as WTCG-TV Super-Station, went on to become WTBS after Turner changed the name in 1979. WTBS was seen in over 2 million homes at the time and thus made GCW the first nationally televised NWA show. And as the viewers for the network grew, so did viewers of the wrestling program. Turner relied on GCW as the anchor for his programming, which is why seeing Vince McMahon suddenly in GCW’s time-slot was such a shock.

Turner had refused to sell the spot to McMahon, but, undeterred, Vince bought a controlling stake in GCW from the Briscos and Jim Barnett and took control of the time-slot. Turner’s hands were partially tied in the deal, since GCW had a contract with the network. Long story short (too late?) Vince tanked in the ratings and sold GCW to Jim Crockett Jr. after Turner gave other weekend time slots to Ole Anderson’s Championship Wrestling from Georgia and Bill Watts’ Mid-South.

The rest is literally history, as Turner and McMahon battled each other for over a decade before the Monday Night War ended. But the war almost ended before it began when hell got a little colder as Vince McMahon aired World Championship Wrestling July 14, 1984 until March 30, 1985 (the day before the first WrestleMania).

 

8. Goldberg Returns; WrestleMania Rematch with Brock

Okay, that last entry came with some long-winded back story, but this one won’t need as much background. In 2004, Goldberg completed his one year deal with WWE after a less than impressive run with the company. He capped off his run with a match at WrestleMania XX against Brock Lesnar that was universally panned by critics.

After feeling greatly misused and mistreated by WWE during his year there and his abysmal send off in his Mania debut, Goldberg was done with WWE and wrestling in general. He had zero desire to ever return. Until he did…

After much hype and ESPN references, Goldberg returned to WWE on October 17, 2016. And as if that wasn’t surprising enough, he returned to feud with Lesnar, 12 years after their disastrous encounter at Mania. That feud made for some shocking moments and was the topic of much discussion leading to a WrestleMania rematch over 13 years after the first encounter. The match was received much better this time around, as WWE decided to make the match short and didn’t make either man leave their comfort zone. It was far from a classic match, but it left fans with a much better taste in their mouths than the first go around.

It’s really impressive, when you think about it, that after so many years, Goldberg managed to come back and erase the bad run he had in WWE and even redo what many called one of the worst Mania matches ever. He came back, he redeemed himself, and made hell adjust their thermostat.

 

7. Ric Flair Brings The “Big Gold Belt” to WWF

In 1991 Bobby Heenan showed up on WWF television with the NWA World’s Title. That in and of itself had those in hell reaching for their jackets, but that was just the beginning. On the September 9, 1991 episode of the ultra-corny, “live audience” version of Prime Time Wrestling, Ric Flair made his WWF debut, “live and in living color.”

This entry should be pretty self explanatory. The world champion of one promotion showed up on national television for said promotion’s rival, with the the World Title no less! This hadn’t happened before or since, so the fact that it ever did happened had those in hell not just reaching for their jackets, but bundling up all the way.

 

6. Bruno Sammartino Mends Fences With WWE

Bruno had a major falling out with WWE that played out over several years. Following his second departure from the World Wrestling Federation in 1988, Bruno spoke out several times against the WWF and Vince McMahon. He criticized the rampant use of steroids in WWF as well as other drugs being taken by the wrestlers. He also thought WWF’s angles had become too vulgar for a business he always considered family-friendly, speaking out especially during the Attitude Era of WWF.

Due in large part to just how outspoken Bruno was, the WWF seemingly erased him from their history. The company never really mentioned his existence in video packages, retrospectives, or legends celebrations. After WWE brought the Hall of Fame back in 2004, the company seemed to be softening their view on Sammartino, allegedly reaching out to him several times in an attempt to induct him into the Hall of Fame. Bruno, however, still did not seem to be interested in being associated with the company he once represented for 4,404 days as champion.

Then things changed. Triple H reached out to Bruno and asked him to give the product another chance, explaining that many of the things Bruno had spoken out against was gone from the current product. Bruno was impressed by the changes and seemed to hold Triple H in very high regard. Because of that, the hatchet was officially buried by both parties and Bruno took his rightful spot in the Hall of Fame. Bruno has since made several appearances for the company, as their feud has completely thawed… while those in hell are still thawing out.

 

5. Vince Russo Rehired by WWE in 2002

I can’t stand Vince Russo. I just want to state that upfront. I cannot stand him as a writer or as a person in general. That has very little to do with this entry, but I just had to mention it. Anyway… in 1999 Vince Russo weaseled his way out of the WWF by signing a deal with WCW while the rest of the WWF were in England for a UK PPV. He also did it without giving Vince McMahon any notice at all. He left without letting anyone know what direction he was going with ANY of the current WWF storylines. One in particular was the upcoming marriage angle between Stephanie McMahon and Test. To buy them some time to figure that one out, they gave Stephanie amnesia thanks to a flying trash can from The British Bulldog on that UK PPV. To say that Russo sudden exit caused headaches for the WWF is an understatement. I mean, they gave Stephanie amnesia for crying out loud!

After tricking WCW into thinking he had talent, Russo proceeded to oversee the company as it lost $60 Million in less than a year, all while spouting off about being the creator of all things successful in WWF and taking credit for the creation of characters like Stone Cold Steve Austin. Meanwhile, WWF was doing record business and becoming a publicly traded company without Russo there.

The abrupt exit from WWF followed by his obvious lack of talent being displayed all over WCW programming seemed to be a solid indicator that Russo would never work in the wrestling business again. But that was far, far, far, from the case. Not only did Russo inexplicably keep getting hired by TNA to run that company into the ground, he was actually rehired by WWE for one day in 2002.

Yeah, that’s right, Vince McMahon brought Russo back to the company to work as a member of the “creative” team after seeing ratings tumble and Stone Cold walking out of the company. Russo promptly pitched a terrible idea about relaunching the invasion angle, hiring guys that were way too expensive due to their AOL Time Warner contract, and changing multiple title-holders. He was removed from the creative team immediately and offered a $125,000 consultant job, which he could do at home. The man who said he left WWF because he wanted to spend more time with his family, turned down the stay at home job to take a full-time position that paid less and took him away from his family more. Brilliant.

The stupidity of Russo aside, the fact that WWE was willing to bring such a polarizing backstage figure back into the fold, after not only leaving WWE high and dry but going to the competition to try to beat WWE in the Monday Night War, was a major shock to wrestling fans as the snow clouds began to build up in hell.

 

4. Eric Bischoff Comes to WWE

As much as Russo wanted to beat WWF when he went to WCW, he came nowhere close to actually doing it. The number four spot on this list belongs to someone who actually did. Eric Bischoff oversaw WCW as president while Nitro beat Raw in the ratings for 84 weeks in a row. Bischoff made it no secret (though now he seems to deny saying) that he wanted to put Vince and the WWF out of business. Think about that, this man wanted to end Vince McMahon’s business. He obviously wasn’t successful, but the demise of WCW wasn’t the end of Eric Bischoff’s career in the wrestling business. On July 15, 2002 Eric Bischoff walked out onto Monday Night Raw as the new general manager of the Raw brand.

The man who wanted to end Vince’s livelihood was now gainfully employed by Vince himself. It was a sight that no one ever would have expected to see, and yet it happened. Bischoff would go on to work for WWE for over five years before departing and eventually ending up in TNA. Since 2016, he’s made several appearances back with the WWE. Because of this long relationship with WWE, the shock of Bischoff in the company to begin with doesn’t pack as much punch as it did when it first happened. It might not be that shocking now, but at the time, snow had begun to fall in hell.

 

3. Sable Returns to WWE

This one is still baffling to me, for a couple of reasons. First, when Sable, aka Rena Mero, left the World Wrestling Federation in 1999 she filed a $110 Million lawsuit against WWF for sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions. Second, she was pretty terrible. I’m all for mending fences, burying hatches, putting your behind in the past, etc. etc. but what was the point in this one? Sable wasn’t going to be able to make lightning strike twice by having fans inexplicably fall in love with her again, so the fact that WWE was willing to let bygones be bygones and bring Sable back was absolutely shocking.

There’s not much more to say really. Sable came back, made out with Vince McMahon on SmackDown a lot, had a feud with Torrie Wilson before posing nude with her in Playboy, and then just sorta left. It was a very mundane run, but it was also a very mundane exit for Sable as she left on good terms this time around. The mild run kills a lot of the shock factor today, but at the time, after everything that happened, Sable’s return caused an all out blizzard in hell.

 

2. Ultimate Warrior Enters The WWE Hall of Fame

As I did with Russo, I’ll point out up top that I do not care for Jim Hellwig. He was a bitter, bigoted man who made terrible remarks about many different people including a veiled racist rant on Hurricane Katrina victims, repeated slurs directed towards homosexuals, thinking Martin Luther King Jr. shouldn’t be celebrated, and reveling in the fact that Bobby Heenan was dying of cancer. In short, the guy’s garbage. WWE has turned him into a demigod over the past few years, attaching his name to an award at the Hall of Fame given to people who persevere in the face of life’s obstacles, many of whom Hellwig would have probably found fault in because he seemed to be that kind of a guy. He once called Darren Drozdov “The Cripple” because paraplegics deserve ridicule in Hellwig’s eyes, I guess.

I could go on, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll say that with all the bad blood between Ultimate Warrior and WWE it’s downright jaw dropping that he is in the WWE Hall of Fame. Not only did Warrior holdout Vince for money in 1991 and then no show several events in 1996 before disappearing from WWE television until 2014, but he spoke out quite often about his disdain for Vince and WWE. Increasing the bad blood was the fact that WWE actually took the time to release a DVD titled “The Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior” which was basically an entire DVD devoted to burying the former WWE Champion. It seemed that the hard feelings would be solidly held in place forever.

And then he went into the Hall of Fame. What changed? I’m not completely sure. But something did and it was a huge shock to see him back on WWE television. The fact that him making so many bigoted statements didn’t stop WWE from celebrating him is even more shocking. And all of this turned hell into an arctic wasteland.

Now… before we get to the number one spot, let’s take a look at some honorable mentions:

Jinder Mahal’s WWE Title Win, Vince McMahon Buys WCW, Madusa inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, Undertaker Loses at WrestleMania, The nWo Debuts in WWE, The NWA Comes to WWF in 1998, and Sting Wrestles at WrestleMania just to name a few.

 

1. Bret Hart Returns to WWE

This is the end all be all of hell-freezing-over moments in wrestling. Bret Hart exited the World Wrestling Federation in the most publicized shoots in the history of wrestling. Later dubbed The Montreal Screwjob, the moment Vince McMahon had the time keeper ring the bell during the Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart match was one of the most intriguing moments in wrestling history. The subject is still talked about today (beating a dead horse at this point, really) and people are still fascinated about who knew what and when. One thing we all knew was that the breach of trust that we had witnessed in that Survivor Series main event was going to keep Bret Hart away from WWE forever. Turns out, we didn’t know jack…

Hell first noticed a drop in temperature in 2006, when Bret Hart was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. There was, however, still some bad blood as Bret insisted he not get paid for the appearance (he’d vowed to never work for WWE again and considered taking pay to be working) and either requested Shawn Michaels not be in attendance or Shawn voluntarily avoided the ceremony (I’m not sure which) but either way it was clear, things were not smoothed over by a long shot.

Then, in late 2009, Dennis Miller brought up Bret’s name on an episode of Raw and suddenly it seemed inevitable that Bret was actually going to return. He publicly buried the hatchet with Shawn Michaels and even worked a match with Vince McMahon himself at WrestleMania XXVI. Since then, Bret has made numerous appearances for the company, even serving a short stint on Raw as the general manager. And all the while, all molecular activity in hell ceased, as hell had completely, unequivocally, frozen over!

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