The wrestling pay-per-view is a vital part of the wrestling industry. Weeks if not months of planned out segments and storylines all head toward the big event that, in theory, should result in a pay-off match and the blow-off of at least the past month of storytelling.
The storylines build their way from the televised angles all the way to the PPV that the viewer pays to watch for the payoff of a big feud. Sometimes these pay-offs work and sometimes they don’t. Here are ten of the most controversial PPV endings in wrestling history.
10. Bret Hart vs Yokozuna – WrestleMania IX
We’ll start the list with a doozy. At WrestleMania IX, Yokozuna challenged Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Hart had a fight on his hands as he was clearly at a disadvantage against the 500-pound sumo.
The Hitman seemingly had the match won as he locked Yokozuna in a Sharpshooter, but Mr Fuji interfered and threw salt into the eyes of Hart. Yokozuna took advantage and pinned the champion to claim the title.
But that isn’t the controversy. Earlier in the night, a returning and mysteriously black-eyed Hulk Hogan challenged for WWF Tag Team Championships with Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake. The Mega-Maniacs lost to Money Inc. via DQ, however, that wasn’t the last the fans would see of Hogan that night.
As Hart lay defeated, Hogan came out to help his “friend”. Mr Fuji began berating Hogan on the microphone calling him a yellow belly because he was afraid of Yokozuna. Hogan accepted the challenge when Fuji put the belt on the line. Twenty-two seconds later, Hogan was champion and the place came unglued. Despite the fans’ reaction, it hampered the promotion – which was ushering in a post-Hulkamania “new generation.
It was clearly a powerplay from the ‘Hulkster’ who wanted to assert his dominance on the WWF after leaving the year prior. The result made both Hart and Yokozuna look weak, which is something that has never sat right with the ‘Hitman’.
Hart wrote about the occasion at length in his book, “Hitman”.
“As scripted, with my face buried in the crook of my arm, I waved him to avenge my loss. “Go get ’em, Hulk!”
I was really thinking, Go ahead, Hogan, take from me what I worked so hard to get. We’ll see just how long you last! Hogan was champion again without even having a match—and before I’d even made it backstage. He simply ducked the powder Fuji threw in his face, clotheslined Fuji and dropped his big leg on Yoko. I could hear the one . . . two . . . three, the roar of the crowd and Hogan’s music thumping. I couldn’t help but stare at the TV monitor watching Hulk Hogan work the crowd with the same old posing routine, a hand behind the ear, shaking the World belt in the air as if to say it belonged to him all along.”
9. Sting vs Jeff Hardy – TNA Victory Road 2011
In early 2011, Jeff Hardy became the TNA World Heavyweight Championship for the first time – defeating Sting in the process. A few months later, Sting would get his rematch at TNA Victory Road in a match remembered for all the wrong reasons.
It was clear from the entrance that something wasn’t quite right with Jeff Hardy. He took nearly a minute to emerge through the curtain after his music began playing and, once in the ring, he looked dazed and confused. Sting followed, but then so did Eric Bischoff.
Bischoff spoke to both wrestlers, remaining in character but delivering instructions on how the match was going to go down. He then addressed the crowd before adding a No Disqualification stipulation to the match.
The bell rang and the debacle began. Hardy was clearly intoxicated and staggered about the ring attempting to throw his t-shirt into the crowd. Sting was clearly embarrassed by what was happening and cornered Hardy laid in a few strikes before dropping Hardy with the Scorpion Death Drop. He covered Hardy who tried to kick out but Sting held him down and the 90-second fiasco was over.
The reaction both live and online was disastrous for TNA and continues to be spoken about some ten years later.
8. Roman Reigns vs The Undertaker WrestleMania 33
Roman Reigns met the Undertaker at WrestleMania 33. It was at the height of the fan pushback against Roman Reigns. This was the third time in a row that Reigns was in the main event of WrestleMania, and fans wanted to see him get taken down a peg or two courtesy of the ‘Deadman’.
The battle for the “yard” began and the “No Holds Barred” stipulation allowed for some foreign object-assisted offence. But as the match wore on, it was clear that ‘Taker was struggling. The match suffered from some very awkward spots and at one point both wrestlers were unable to lift one another.
The ending of the match saw Reigns hit spear after spear before pinning the Undertaker to an uproar of boos from the jam-packed crowd. After the defeat, the Undertaker carefully folded his coat and placed his gloves and hat on top in an action that symbolised his retirement.
The result was highly unpopular and was the second consecutive year WrestleMania ended with boos and jeers while it signaled the beginning of the end for the Undertaker.
7. Hulk Hogan vs Sting – WCW Starrcade 1997
The build to Hulk Hogan vs Sting was awesome. Hogan and the nWo ran roughshod over WCW. All that stood in their way fell all but Sting that is. Sting disappeared from the company and returned to stalk the faction with a new look and new attitude.
The former bleached blonde “Surfer Dude” was gone and the Crow-inspired character was here. Sting appeared in the rafters and became a thorn in the side of the nWo. An excellent 12-month plus storyline that had wrestling fans buzzing came to a head when Sting challenged Hogan for the WCW Championship at the promotion’s flagship PPV.
The match started and the two icons slugged it out. About ten-minutes in Hogan hit his signature big boot and then followed a most confusing sequence of events. After posing for far too long Hogan then dropped the big leg and nWo associated referee Nick Patrick was supposed to execute a fast count to give Hogan the unfair victory, but he didn’t and Hogan went over WCW’s saviour clean.
This brought out Bret Hart fresh off the ‘Montreal Screwjob’ to stop the timekeeper from ringing the bell and insert himself as the referee. Once the match started, Sting hit two Stinger Splashes before locking in the Scorpion Deathlock and forcing Hogan to submit.
It was a mess of a finish that Hogan’s incessant politicking caused but was certainly made worse by the referee’s inability to count quicker.
6. Roman Reigns wins WWE Royal Rumble 2015
This controversial ending to a PPV was once again due to the fan backlash to the mega push of Roman Reigns.
The rumble took place during the zenith of Daniel Bryan’s popularity with the WWE Universe vehemently behind him. Therefore, when he was eliminated from the match the crowd vocally and loudly voiced their disapproval with a thunder of boos.
As the match continued it was clear it was the vehicle to take the former Shield member to the main event of WrestleMania 31, and the fans were not impressed.
Reigns eliminated the Authority’s Kane and the Big Show, who in turn jumped back in the ring to him down. This brought out the Rock to even the odds and give his cousin the rub, but the fans didn’t care. They wanted anyone but Reigns to win and when Rusev, who had been outside, came in, they cheered wildly for the anti-American heel. However, Reigns speared and eliminated him to win the Royal Rumble.
As Reigns and the Rock celebrated the fans blasted them boos, jeers and everything in between. The intensely negative reaction clearly dumbfounded the Rock who looked about the crowd in disbelief.
5. Brock Lesnar vs Randy Orton – WWE SummerSlam 2016
This match was the result of a cross-brand rivalry with Orton and Lesnar attacking one another on their respective brands. The brand extension had just happened with Orton plying his trade on SmackDown and Lesnar on RAW.
The match saw some decent action from both competitors. They hit their signature moves and spots. Orton got blasted through the announce table and Lesnar succumbed to an RKO but neither man could put the other away.
The controversy came when Lesnar removed his gloves before legitimately striking Orton with a barrage of vicious blows. Lesnar landed several significant elbow strikes, which seemed to bust Orton open the hard way. Referees attempted to pull Lesnar off a bloody Orton but the ‘Beast’ continued. SmackDown Commissioner Shane McMahon tried to stop Lesnar but received an F-5 for his efforts.
It was an alarming sight and not the type of thing seen on WWE programming for years. The melee left the crowd stunned and upset by the bizarre ending to the show. So realistic was the ending of the match that Chris Jericho confronted Lesnar backstage and the two had to be split up by Triple H and Vince McMahon.
4. Double Quad Tear at WWE Royal Rumble 2005
2005’s Royal Rumble is known for two things. Firstly the botched ending, which saw John Cena and Batista eliminate each other at the same time. Secondly, a furious Vince McMahon berating the two wrestlers from a seated position after tearing both his quads is an unforgettable sight.
The match was meant to see the ‘Animal’ win his first Royal Rumble match. But as the final two Cena and Batista battled it out in a sequence that went drastically wrong. After eliminating Edge, Cena attempted an FU but Batista countered with a Batista Bomb. Cena countered that with a head-scissor that took both men over the top rope. Batista was supposed to hang on while Cena crashed to the floor.
However, both wrestlers fell to the ground at the same time causing the match to no definitive winner. As the referees, Cena and Batista argued as to whose feet hit the floor first Vince McMahon stormed to the ring to sort the mess out.
McMahon burst into the ring with such vigour that he caught his knees on the ring apron tearing his quads in the process. He attempted to stand but couldn’t and therefore sat down like a child refusing to get dressed. He ordered the match to be restarted and Batista to be claimed as the definitive winner. Despite the restart and desired finish it was forever marred by the botch and Vince’s poor quads.
3. Kenny Omega vs Jon Moxley Exploding Barbed wire Deathmatch AEW Revolution 2021.
Such a great match ruined by a criminally bad finale. It was the first time that such a match had taken place on US soil and the hype surrounding it was off the charts.
AEW Champion Kenny Omega wanted rid of Jon Moxley once and for all in an Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch. The match was brutal with Omega and Moxley exploring their hardcore tendencies to the fullest extent of their capabilities.
After a succession of wince-inducing spots, the Good Brothers and Omega destroyed Moxley and a one-winged angel onto chairs secured the victory for the champion.
As the clock counted down the anticipation grew. Kingston covered his fallen comrade to protect him from the oncoming explosion. What happened next will go down in wrestling infamy. What was supposed to be a monumental blast was nothing more than four gently fizzing roman candles taped to the ring posts followed by the weak poof of smoke from under the ring.
The company somehow survived the debacle, but it will go down as one of the biggest letdowns in wrestling PPV history.
2. Seth Rollins vs The Fiend WWE Hell in a Cell 2019
Leading into the match The Fiend was the hottest act in the wrestling business. So WWE hot-shotted him to a title match against Seth Rollins. The move put Rollins and WWE in a tough position because nothing but a Fiend victory would have sufficed.
The match was a bizarre affair, with Rollins and the Fiend bathed in red light while the champion blasted the challenger over and over again with an array of different weapons. The beating was so severe that the ref stepped in and disqualified Rollins. The decision was astounding as the Hell in a Cell stipulation allows for things to take place.
The ending was so bad that the crowd went crazy and not in a good way. A chorus of boos and expletives, followed by AEW and restart the match chants.
Rollins was thrown to wolves and became the scapegoat for WWE’s poor booking decision. It killed Rollins’ title run and took him months to recover while starting the trend that WWE had no idea how to book one of the most interesting characters in years.
1. Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels – WWE Survivor Series 1997
We end on one of the most controversial moments not only in PPV history but in wrestling as a whole. The story of what went down has been told countless times but it remains fascinating due to the underhanded nature of the situation.
To recap Vince McMahon offered Hart a big-money deal to keep him away from WCW. Hart took the deal, however, Vince reneged on the deal and told Hart to take the WCW. After 14 years with the company, Hart signed with WCW and was scheduled to start in December.
However, there was a problem Brett Hart was the WWE Champion during this time. Obviously, Vince McMahon didn’t want Hart leaving the company as champion and wanted him to drop the title to Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series. But another problem arose. Hart didn’t want to lose to Michaels, with who he had genuine and real-life heat, on his way out especially in his home country.
Therefore, an ending was agreed upon in which Hart retained the title via disqualification and would drop it at a later date. However, McMahon and Michaels would have other plans.
During a sequence in the match where Michaels countered a Sharpshooter by locking in his own version of the hold. As HBK leaned back McMahon, who was at ringside motioned to referee Earl Hebner to ring the bell and declare Michaels as the new WWF Champion.
Hart looked about confused as everyone before it slowly dawned upon him that he had been well and truly been screwed. What followed was unprecedented. Hart spat right in McMahon’s eye while Michaels scurried away. Hart then destroyed anything he could his hands on at ringside.
Backstage tempers were flying high and when McMahon tried to explain himself Hart reportedly dropped the WWE CEO with a right hook leaving the owner and the promotion with a black eye. Hart’s relationship with McMahon and the WWE was broken forever and even though they patched things up years later it was never the same.
It was a wrestling angle played out in real life in front of millions of people and one that will never be forgotten.