Wrestling is, at its heart, nothing more than a grand soap opera playing out on the largest stage in the world.
It is a medium that revels in over-the-top violence, sordid love affairs, and larger-than-life characters. It also has never been afraid to travel down the well worn whodunnit path. However, unlike with stories such as ‘Who Killed Lucy Beale’ wrestling has always had difficulty with stretching the narrative out and sticking the landing.
Typically, bookers will askew any logical reveal in favour of a big shock at the end of things to really surprise the audience. It is usually good for a one-off crowd reaction but does little for long term narrative. That being said, there are times where, for better or worse, these stories live on in fan’s memories for a lifetime.
With the recent attempts on Roman Reign’s life it seems like now would be a good time to remind ourselves of some of the better whodunnits of the past.
5. The Undertaker’s Vegetative State
The chances are that this is not a story that immediately jumped into your mind when thinking of classic whodunnits. True, it wasn’t the most expertly executed and the reveal was always painfully obvious but it still has its merits that put it above most other examples.
The story here is that, to cover for an injury sustained in a match with Rey Mysterio on May 28th 2010, Kane announced that The Undertaker had been found backstage in a vegetative state. In the ensuing weeks The Devil’s Favourite Demon searched for his brother’s attacker, finally deciding that it must have been Rey Mysterio himself. The image of Rey attempting to attack a man of ‘Taker’s size may be ridiculous but that was rather the point as Kane tried in vain to keep suspicion off of himself.
Over the course of this feud, Kane won a well-deserved World Heavyweight Championship before being confronted by a returning Deadman. With Kane outed as the attacker the two feuded for a number of months and, for the first time in their storied rivalry, he managed to best Undertaker at every turn.
The actual reveal itself may not have been inspired and the story was one of necessity but the fact that this led to Kane finally getting the chance to run atop the WWE for a spell makes this a whodunnit worth remembering.
In all honesty, this entry was very nearly Aces and Eight’s but the drawn-out nature of the final reveal in that debacle makes it ever so slightly inferior to this particular offering from TNA.
Also taking place in 2010 in the run up to Bound for Glory, Abyss began having premonitions of a mysterious ‘They’ who were coming to TNA. As Hogan and Bischoff were now with the promotion it was sensible to assume that they’d have a role to play in all of this. Ultimately this was the case as the two were indeed revealed to be at the helm of the new group. The swerve, because of course they had a swerve, was that perennial babyface Jeff Hardy was also a member and captured the TNA World Championship that night with the aid of Hogan’s crutch.
Joined also by Abyss and Jeff Jarrett Immortal was born. It dragged on too long in the end and birthed the ugliest World Title in history but this first glimpse of the new dominant faction on Impact certainly hit the mark.
3. The Black Scorpion
One of the more famous messes in history, this tale from WCW’s past is one of poor timing more than anything.
Arriving in August of 1990, The Black Scorpion was supposed to provide a fresh challenge for reigning NWA World Champion Sting. For too long he had been at war with Ric Flair and fans craved something new. What they got was a masked man purporting to be from Sting’s past and using parlour tricks to torment the champion whilst keeping his voice distorted to maintaining the mystery surrounding his identity.
The intention was for this to be the vehicle that brought Ole Anderson back to the ring, but an ill-timed broken arm put an end to those plans and Anderson’s in-ring career altogether. Management scrambled from there and, according to Ric Flair, the role was supposed to pass on to Al Perez who did don the mask at Clash of the Champions XII. Sadly, Perez quit the promotion before the big reveal and so the man under the mask ended up being the very man who the story was supposed to steer away from the main event, Ric Flair.
Despite the setbacks throughout this story it still remains one of the most fondly remembered whodunnits in wrestling history.
2. The Higher Power
The Ministry of Darkness was one of the coolest factions of the Attitude Era. It was dark, it was brooding, and it appealed the edgy goth in all of us. It was arguably one of the highest points of The Undertaker’s career and it was all ruined by one man: Vince McMahon.
To be entirely fair, The Corporate Ministry, formed of ‘Taker’s group and a Shane McMahon led Corporation, had already severely watered down this once stellar stable. Devil worship and board meetings so rarely go well together. Still though, there was a spark of life left in the group. Then Undertaker began speaking of a Higher Power who controlled his actions.
For weeks fans were left to wonder who this mysterious figure was. There are even reports that it could have been Christopher Daniels in full Fallen Angel mode but those plans, if they ever existed, never came to be. Instead the man behind the Ministry was revealed on June 7th 1999 and it was the boss himself, Vinne Mac.
Now not only did it not make sense for The Lord of Darkness to be taking his cues from this rich old man but it also rendered all of the actions taken by the group entirely pointless. Undertaker and his cronies had tried to wed and sacrifice Stephanie McMahon, Vince’s own daughter, and people were supposed to believe that this was part of some great plan by the elder McMahon to get back at Steve Austin? It didn’t track and the angle quickly fizzled out after this.
The reason that the whole affair ranks so highly is that the build was so good. The Undertaker setting up and even bigger evil was tantilising and fans were genuinely excited to find out who the puppet master was. What could have been had more sensible heads prevailed is something that fantasy bookers dream of.
1. Who Ran Over Stone Cold Steve Austin?
One of the most famous quotes in wrestling history and it came from the mouth of Rikishi. That in itself makes this a number one entry calibre storyline but there is so much more to it than that. It’s a tale of WWE absurdity. Convolution for the sake of convolution. And one of the most ill-advised heel turns ever.
As with other entries on this list, this started as a way to cover for an injury. In late 1999 Stone Cold needed to take a prolonged absence to receive surgery on his horrendously damaged neck. In order to write him out in an explosive manner it was decided to have him be run down in the parking lot at Survivor Series by a mystery assailant.
For nine months fans were left to speculate as to the identity of the driver and the fate of Austin. When he returned the pop was enormous with everyone ready to see him gain retribution on whoever had sidelined him so callously. An investigation was launched by Commissioner Foley and the expectation was that Triple H would be unveiled as the culprit. That was eventually the case but there was a slight detour on the way there.
Fun, dancing babyface Rikishi admitted to being the driver to the complete apathy of the audience. No one wanted to see Austin waste his time on this interlude, they wanted to war with HHH. Still, Rikishi explained that he did it to allow fellow Samoan, The Rock, to ascend to the main event. A brief feud ensued and, after trying to kill Rikishi with his truck, the focus shifted off of the massive Samoan.
Finally, it was time for Triple H to enter the fray as he attacked Austin with his Sledgehammer and revealed himself as the mastermind of the attack. This kicked off a genuinely brilliant series of matches between the pair. Their Three Stages of Hell Match at No Way Out 2001 was a true highlight and its these encounters that make this the best of all of the whodunnits.
All in all, wrestling whodunnits tend not to be very good. The powers that be try to be clever and throw a curveball into the mix but they end up insulting the fan’s intelligence and ruining the reveal. Still, there is fun to be had in the speculation and the hope that one day they will execute one of these stories perfectly.
Until then at least we can look back on these few instances of mostly good mysteries.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @Impers0nalJesus. Thanks for reading!