OK, show of hands please. Does anyone NOT realise that WWE’s ‘The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever’ tagline for this weekend’s Edge vs Randy Orton match at Backlash is totally tongue-in-cheek?
We all know it’s impossible to give a match that distinction before it even happens and so do they. But it’s got us all talking hasn’t it?
It’s silly, it’s dumb and it fits in with the off-the-wall humour WWE has been incorporating during the last few months. From WrestleMania’s Firefly Funhouse, to Money In The Bank: Titan Towers Edition and In Your House, WWE are leaning into the silliness and why not? We could all do with some light-hearted nonsense right now.
But let’s be honest, this is not WWE’s first silly promotional tactic. Over the years they have had some real head-scratchers in terms of surreal ideas to part people from their money. Some have been intentionally daft, some less so. Some have been successful and some have died a death on arrival. The thing they all have in common is their absurdity.
Shall we dive in?
Gimmick Battle Royal
Shall we start with one that is very fondly remembered shall we? Yes we shall.
WrestleMania 17 (Sorry, X-7) is, by popular opinion, The Greatest WrestleMania Of All Time! More than possibly any card ever, it encapsulated the three-ring circus aspect of wrestling in that there should be something on a card for every taste. Don’t like the hardcore title match? Have some McMahons! Not for you? Here are some high-flyers! Technical guys! TLC!
What many will forget about WrestleMania 17 is how hastily the card was put together. Most matches were only announced 2-3 weeks before the event with many, such as Triple H vs Undertaker, being almost literally an afterthought. How this event ended up being so good, only the wrestling gods know!
One match that was thrown on to the card less than two weeks ahead of the event was the Gimmick Battle Royal. A bit of light comedy and an attempt to catch the attention of lapsed fans now that WCW had vanished from the wrestling landscape.
It was silly, absurd and fun. With Bobby Heenan and ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund on commentary, the landscape was set for the likes of The Bushwhackers, Tugboat, Brother Love and Kamala to raise a smile. Won by The Iron Sheik (Because apparently he wasn’t physically able to take the bump over the top rope to the floor), the match lasted just a few minutes but captured fans attention to such an extent that there are still calls for a repeat.
The Greatest Royal Rumble
For their debut Saudi Arabia show, WWE announced a 50-man version of their January PPV staple titled ‘The Greatest Royal Rumble’. It certainly wasn’t the greatest but it was the biggest field.
It set the tone for these controversial Saudi show in terms of bombastic promotion and use of over-the-top marketing tactics. The events themselves are primarily designed to promote Saudi Arabia around the world and the promotional culture in that part of the globe leans heavily into setting records.
If the establishment holds an event (Or builds a building etc), it must strive to be the biggest or the best ever. It’s just the way things are done in the Middle East but for Western audiences, it seems jarring.
But what can you do if you can’t actually make it the best? Call Titus O’Neill…
Vince & Shane McMahon vs. Shawn Michaels & God
We all know Shawn Michaels is a changed man since he found religion during his turn of the century career hiatus. But God as a tag team partner? I think he would probably need a few more millennia of divine service before the biggest of big guys would agree to hold a tag rope and clap encouragement to HBK.
Obviously it was just the set up for a handicap match. God did get an entrance for the match at Backlash 2006 and was represented by the arena spotlight. Heck, Vince even insisted the referee check him for weapons. Clearly he is a better creator than he is professional wrestler because the McMahons won the match after interference from the (Holy?) Spirit Squad.
Bill Clinton To Attend WrestleMania X
It was simply never going to happen. Why on earth would a sitting US president, as Clinton was in 1994, attend a WrestleMania? Sure it was taking place in New York City but it was never going to happen. Well some people thought it was as the appearance was heavily hyped leading into the show.
As it turns out, oh so predictably, the whole thing was a joke. Clinton of course did not attend but an uncanny impersonator did. And he proceeded to make a bunch of lame appearances with Todd Pettengill and IRS throughout the show as many at home probably wondered why they had allowed themselves to be intrigued by such a silly premise.
Surely after such an apathetic reaction, WWE would never try anything like that again, would they?
Barack Obama To Attend Capitol Punishment
Oh yes they would! In 2011 in fact.
When WWE Capitol Punishment was announced to take place in Washington D.C, posters for the event featured a cartoon of the then-POTUS and trailers for the show even spliced in Obama press conference footage to make it seem like he was part of the event.
Of course, he was wasn’t. But impersonator Reggie Brown was in attendance to perform a similar bunch of silly skits that were received about as well as the Clinton ones 17 years earlier.
Surely one of these days WWE might actually get a real president on PPV. Trump? Rocky? Bob Backlund?
Fake Razor Ramon & Diesel
We all know the story. In 1996, Razor Ramon and Diesel (AKA Scott Hall and Kevin Nash) gave their notice to the then WWF and moved to WCW for huge financial packages, lighter schedules and the chance to change the wrestling landscape forever with the New World Order.
In short order Vince McMahon recovered from this blow with the launch of the Attitude Era and the creation of new stars such as ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, The Rock and Mankind.
But that wasn’t his first reaction. No sir. His first reaction was to announce the return of Razor and Diesel on an upcoming episode of Raw.
How could this be? Hall and Nash were firmly under WCW contract, how could they come back? Well, they couldn’t, but the characters could.
On Raw, Jim Ross, who had been the loudest cheerleader for the duo’s return launched into a badly misjudged heel promo before introducing, erm… Rick Bognor and Glen Jacobs (now MUCH better known as Kane), playing the part of The Bad Guy and Big Daddy Cool respectively.
Clearly it bombed. Fans groaned at the ridiculous switcheroo but WWE played the recasting completely straight. Needless to say, both were soon shown the door and McMahon and company got on with the business of actually revolutionising late 90s wrestling instead.
Who’s inside the egg?
In the run up to Survivor Series 1990, WWF programming began featuring a giant egg sat on a plinth dragged from arena to arena. Fans were encouraged to guess what could possibly be inside the egg.
A new wrestler? The biggest egg white omelette ever? A humungous, plastic Kinder Egg terrapin? All you had to do in order to find out was buy the Survivor Series on Pay Per View!
Intrigued? Well, surely some people were. Midway through the PPV, it came time for the egg to hatch. As Gene Okerlund looked on and as it began to crack, out popped…The Gobbeldy Gooker.
After a quick trot to the ring and a square dance with a squriming Okerlund, the big bird vanished, barely to be seen again until….WrestleMania 17’s Gimmick Battle Royal.
The irony is not lost on anyone that a far more low key debut occurred on the very same event. The Undertaker. Anyone know what happened to that cat?
McMahon’s Million Dollar Mania
Unlike many entries on this list, this gimmick did exactly what it said it would do on the tin. For a number of weeks during 2006, Vince McMahon would appear on Raw and give away a chunk of cash totalling $1 million to random people he would call live.
Yes, it was as bad and as boring as it sounds. The contest was designed to encourage people to tune into Raw and for the wider media to talk about the initiative. Neither goals were even remotely accomplished.
By far the highlight was Vince McMahon’s confused face as he was ‘Rick-rolled’ live by one of the potential winners live on Raw.
The fact that the whole thing ended with the Raw set collapsing on McMahon seems very appropriate.
Starrcade, WWE style
In mid-2017 WWE announced that an upcoming event taking place in Greensboro, North Carolina would be titled ‘Starrcade’
Older fans immediately rejoiced. This beloved brand was WCW’s equivalent of WrestleMania and had not been held since 2000, despite an almost constant clamour for its return. Finally it was happening, kinda.
In truth, when the event rolled round in November, it was nothing more than a glorified house show with portions broadcast on the WWE Network.
The only real nods to the event’s tradition were Dustin Rhodes competing under the Rhodes name for the first time in WWE since 1991 and a pair of steel cage matches headlining. Slap on some Starrcade logos and that’s all she wrote. Kind of underwhelming, no?
Despite the immense potential goodwill of the brand’s revival being squandered, WWE held Starrcade events for the next two years in the same style. It remains to be seen whether it will return in 2020 or beyond.
Vince, it is not too late to turn this bad boy around. Think about it!