For all of the great moments in wrestling, none of them would stand the test of time or live long in the memory if the crowd didn’t play their part.
As the WWE pushed towards a more child friendly product, the crowds have strayed away from the 18-30 male demographic that ruled the attitude era and beyond. Of course, this has an impact on live crowd reactions, as children and chaperoning parents aren’t going to be half as raucous and rowdy as an alcohol fuelled 21-year-old.
Still, the shocks and surprises that the WWE still generates in today’s business manages to whip the fans into frenzies and let loose great crescendos of noise in spite of the internet’s best efforts to spoil them.
This past Monday was one of the best in terms of crowd reactions in a long time. Hartford, Connecticut, is hardly famed for its atmosphere in the same vain as say Madison Square Garden or Chicago, but it goes to show if you give the fans enough to cheer about – they shall.
A Jack Swagger face turn, returns for Chris Jericho, The Miz and AJ Lee on top of the continuing focus on the ascension of Roman Reigns, has piqued the fans interest. Even with the golden goose, Daniel Bryan, on the shelf.
Below are my top 20 ‘crowd pops’ since I started watching back in 1998. It’s worth mentioning that crowd reactions to heels are also vital, but in this instance I’ll focus on the positive reactions. And yes, it was incredibly hard to put these in order!
Kane Tombstone’s Tori (2000)
The basic narrative here is: the McMahon-Helmsley faction was in full swing terrorising any faces on the roster. Kane had recently returned from a few months of exile where before that, he had been tag-team champions with X-Pac. In this time, Kane had fallen in love with Tori (somehow) which had humanised the Big Red Machine. Eventually, the tag-team split and it came out that X-Pac had been doing the nasty with Tori during a Christmas break. After a couple of PPV matches where X-Pac never really got his come uppence and the extended absence, Kane finally returned with the late Paul Bearer in tow. After weeks of nearly giving the harlot what she deserved, Kane finally did. The crowd’s reaction when Kane doesn’t choke slam her is priceless - a tombstone, which was increasingly rare in these days, was a fine substitute. Ahhh, the original masked Kane.
1:00 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wW0nDvZRnqw
Edge Spears Jeff Hardy of a 20ft Ladder (2001)
Any wrestling fan knows about the origins of the now famous TLC match. Tables, Ladder and Chairs was bred from three young, exciting teams who took the WWF by storm for almost two years during 1999-2001. The Dudley Boyz brought the tables, Edge and Christian brought the chairs with their conchairto’s and the Hardy Boyz brought ladders to the party. The development of this match was so organically conceived out of their rivalry, it’s quite incredible it’s now an entire PPV. At Wrestlemania 17, Edge performed his finishing manoeuvre on the ever willing Jeff Hardy from 20ft high to shock the world over. No one had ever seen anything like that before at that point.
0:29 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pMFzmV1PpI
HHH runs down to help Stephanie after Randy Orton RKO’s her (2008)
This is the absolute best of Orton. When he was an unstable, crazy heel who did whatever the hell he wanted as the head of his stable, Legacy. After punting Vince McMahon in the head weeks earlier, his son Shane McMahon was seeking retribution and challenged the Viper to a match on Raw. After suffering the same fate, Stephanie, then General Manager, was RKO’d after checking on her brother. HHH, then of Smackdown, ran down to the ring to his wife’s aid setting up a feud that culminated at Wrestlemania 25 and named PWI feud of the year for 2009. What made this especially intriguing, is that this was one of the first times the WWE was considered to have broken the ‘fourth wall’ by admitting HHH and Stephanie were married in real life.
2:49 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NV2fk5ezYUQ
Undertaker returns to reunite the Brothers of Destruction at Raw 1000 (2012)
Just a real feel good moment for loyal WWE fans. The Brothers of Destruction had everything you could wish for in a great tag team. They had a strong connection with the fans, interesting characters, with juxtaposing yet parallel back stories and most of all, absolutely excellent in ring performers. After their dominant run in 2001, there was only ever really so long they could actually be kept together – their solo lights shone far too bright to be restricted to the tag division. The Undertaker, after being a staple of Smackdown for over 10 years, returned to help his brother Kane clear the ring of glorified jobbers on the flagship shows 1000th episode.
2:00 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StOIV45UdSI
Chris Benoit defeats HHH & Shawn Michaels for World Heavyweight Title (2004)
To those of you who are newer fans of WWE, I think from an in ring stand point, Dolph Ziggler represents Chris Benoit from 15 years ago. Benoit was debatably THE best in-ring worker and technician in the industry for many years before the WWE finally let him have a run with the top strap. Benoit had the immense talent of translating his personal intensity into his move-set and produced great story-telling. When he finally reached the mountain peak, at the expense of two of the WWE’s greatest ever superstars, it was a momentous moment for Benoit and all of the fans that had pined for him to receive the recognition he truly deserved. The touching moment where he stood in the ring with real life best friend Eddie Guererro, who had retained the other World Title that same night, was something wrestling fans truly cherished. Unfortunately, we all know why that doesn’t receive the coverage it should nowadays.
1:30 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eibD8zMSA4M
Dolph Ziggler cashing in Money in the Bank (2013)
Which moves us nicely onto Dolph Ziggler. Although he was technically a heel, the fans couldn’t help but admire the Show Off’s ridiculous work-ethic and general capabilities. After holding the brief case for nine months, Ziggler finally cashed in on an increasingly stagnant champion, Alberto Del Rio, after Jack Swagger had let rip on the Mexican’s ankle. Unfortunately this title run didn’t satisfy the crowd’s Ziggler cravings as he dropped the strap back to Mexico’s greatest export a few short months later following a concussion. Still, the fans truly enjoyed the moment he won.
0:01 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKqtFqpRLEk
John Cena drafted to Raw (2005)
Imagine how this would be greeted now? Well, back in 2005, it was a very, very big deal. Cena had just begun his first of what has now become 15 World Title reigns and had been the hottest thing on Smackdown for at least two years. His Doctor of Thuganomics character had really took off with fans, and he was finally morphing into the character we see today, which was welcome back then.
0:01 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vU7lIAg2uJM
Chris Jericho defeats HHH for WWE Title (2000)
This technically never happened – and not in the way Chris Benoit never happened – but the fact that HHH had referee Earl Hebnar reverse his decision about 20 minutes later. At this time, Jericho had been in the WWF for just under a year but had certainly managed to ruffle Stephanie’s feathers in the process with his famous slutty slurs. This enabled Y2J to goad The Game into a title match to kick-off Raw. The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla had never tasted World Title gold to this point, and no one expected any different. HHH had been incurring problems with Hebnar in the weeks prior to the clash, and after pushing Hebnar one time too many, Y2J snuck an unlikely win to send the Pennsylvania crowd into raptures.
Brock Lesnar & The Big Show break the ring during WWE Title match on Smackdown (2003)
In the words of then Smackdown announcer Tazz: “Holy Shit!” These two behemoths had history thanks to Paul Heyman and his changing allegiances, which led to this championship match on Smackdown. After a stellar back and forth contest, Lesnar would attempt a superplex from the top rope, a feat never previously achieved on The Big Show. The result would bring the match and broadcast to a grinding halt with the fans going delirious over the scenes.
0:40 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4GnJvUpsAQ
Rock returns to save Mick Foley from Evolution (2004)
The Peoples Champ made random and sporadic appearances after leaving the company full-time after his loss to Goldberg at Backlash 2003, but this appearance had been building for months. Mick Foley originally retuned as a co-GM at the call of Linda McMahon alongside Eric Bishoff after the former WCW boss disposed of Stone Cold Steve Austin as his partner at Survivor Series 2003. After being challenged to face then Intercontinental champion and Evolution member Randy Orton for his position, Foley opted to walk out, prompting calls the hardcore legend was a coward. For months after, Orton and his fellow Evolution members taunted Foley, who of course would eventually call in the help of his former Rock & Sock Connection partner. This bit of aid from the Rock would lead to a 3-2 handicap match at Wrestlemania 20.
6:42 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6w1aRjwsvUs
CM Punk defeats John Cena for WWE Title at Money in the Bank (2011)
This was another feel good moment for the fans who knew that CM Punk had been overlooked as the top guy for way too long. After memorable feuds with The Undertaker and Jeff Hardy to name a few, it was Punk’s time to knock off resident poster boy John Cena. Bar the children buying his merchandise, the fans had grown tired of Cena and needed a change, and the famous ‘Pipebomb’ promo given a few weeks earlier and only heightened the situation. For the first time in a long while, fans genuinely did not know who would win. Everyone knew Punk’s contract was running out too, would this be the last time we saw him? Will Punk leave with the title? Nobody knew. But Chicago, Punks hometown, was certainly going to have its say.
41:30 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAt2BGKAOz8
Brock Lesnar returns (2012)
The beast incarnate returns. Brock Lesnar was the hottest thing in wrestling for the two brief years he graced the WWE during 2002-04. Lesnar departed in 2004 after a frankly terrible match with Goldberg at Wrestlmania and it truly wasn’t the note he deserved to go out on. When he turned up in Miami 8 years later the night after Wrestlemania 28, the fans were more than ready to welcome the powerhouse back into their lives.
11:30 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjGo2m7XnQk
John Cena returns from injury at Royal Rumble entering number 30 (2008)
The leader of The Cenation had his pectoral muscle completely torn from the bone in October 2007 after a routine hip-toss on Mr. Kennedy. He was expected to be out for between seven months and a year. However, in true superman fashion that WWE fans will be accustomed to with Cena, he managed to return at, and win, the 2008 Royal Rumble a mere three months later. Triple H does a masterful job of selling his return as he had been well on his way to winning the Royal Rumble match until Cena’s entrance at number 30.
1:45 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGIqAiUGdLI
The Rock returns to Team WWF during Alliance angle (2001)
Though this was obviously still a richly compelling and exciting angle, this period in wrestling is mostly remembered for what could have been than what it actually was. The five on five Survivor Series match could have been the NWO, Goldberg and Booker T for the Alliance, not Shane McMahon, Kurt Angle, Stone Cole Steve Austin, Rob Van Damn and Booker T. Anyway, The Rock got a rematch against Stone Cold in a cage match for the WWE Title the night after Vince McMahon screwed him at Wrestlemania 17. Triple H, who had serious problems with Austin in the months leading up to ‘Mania, interfered and shockingly aligned with Austin, thus creating the two-man power-trip overseen by Vince McMahon. Of course, Triple H would suffer a debilitating quad injury which put that story line to bed earlier than intended, but upon the Rock’s return after four months away, no one knew if The Great One would side with WWF again after Vince McMahon’s foul play.
12:24 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVF8WFqYQHk
Linda McMahon stands up from comatose state (2001)
This is one of my personal favourites. As dedicated as Shane and his father Vince McMahon are to the business, and they are willing to do just about anything in the ring, they just aren’t excellent in-ring technicians. Any worries that fact would spoil there Wrestlemania 18 match were swept aside by the layered story telling the match exuded. From Trish Stratus as Vince McMahons side-chick, Stephanie’s ambition to be her father’s only special girl, Shanes acquisition of WCW and finally, the awful treatment and sad state of Linda McMahon, Vince’s now estranged wife – this match had it all! The finish is right up there in terms of entertainment, and the crowd goes literally nuts when Linda rises to her feet and gives Vince a shot to the go-nads.
0:04 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6hr6xgu6bM
The old Stone Cold Steve Austin (2001)
During the Rock’s aforementioned 2001 exit, Austin engaged in an unexpected heel-turn by aligning himself with long-time nemesis and WWF owner, Vince McMahon. As time went by, Austin mellowed into a scared and cowardly champion, who sought hugs from Vince and would sing him songs courtesy of his guitar. When WCW and ECW formed the alliance and invaded the WWF, Vince needed the ‘old rattlesnake’ to repel the other promotions advances. When the whole WWF locker room was being outnumbered and outfought by the alliance, only one man could save the day…. *glass smashes*
1:55 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI8ySy3wxjM
The Rock & Hulk Hogan Raw after their Wrestlemania match (2002)
The crowd’s interaction during this whole segment is phenomenal. Hogan can barely get his promo out through the noise, it’s awesome. This is the night after their ‘Legend Vs Icon’ match in which the Rock, probably the hottest face in the business at that point, got the victory. The crowd started to sour towards the ‘Brama Bull’ for defeating Hogan, and in turn, started to cheer for Hogan who had returned to the company with the NWO a bonafide heel.
The whole thing! - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuc-LKVeTP0
Daniel Bryan during the Title unification ceremony (2014)
Similar to the one above, Triple H is trying to get out a promo that the crowd just simply won’t let him. The Authority is trying to sell and promote the upcoming unification match between Randy Orton and John Cena, but the whole arena isn’t interested in that or what HHH has to say – only Daniel Bryan. The Authority had congregated a collection of former champions, Bryan included, to stand in the ring with the announcement to give the match some credence. Even Shawn Michaels struggled to help contain the incredibly loud fanbase.
0.17 onwards! - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsESZMBJhXw
Austin helps Mankind win his first WWF title (1999)
This is commonly considered the loudest pop in WWF history if YouTube is anything to go by. A number of factors contributed to the simmering atmosphere during this titanic battle. Firstly, The Rock was in full swing as a heel champion for The Corporation, a group run by the despised Vince McMahon. Secondly, Mankind (Mick Foley) was led to believe he was the Corporation’s hand-picked champion leading into The Deadly Games Tournament for the vacant WWF Title at Survivor Series 1998, for which he was screwed in the final in Bret Hart-esque fashion, like the previous year. Steve Austin, who was still very much a thorn in The Corporation’s side, had his sights set on the title himself, but showed he would do anything to see it leave The Rock’s waist. With the help of a babyface DX too, Austin made a stunning entrance to make history.
0:29 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KybuIy0wKXk
HHH returns after 9 month quad injury (2002)
This is just the ultimate reception. You have to remember, HHH was by far and away the most hated man in the entire industry upon his injury in 2001. In January 2002, he made his long-awaited return to the house the WWF built, Madison Square Garden. It was an incredible sign of respect for his abilities as a wrestler that the crowd gave him the loudest ovation on record that just kept going and going. No matter how you feel about The King of Kings, his commitment to the business and the lengths he’ll go to for the entertainment of the fans should never be questioned. That night, everyone gave him his due.
0:01 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhFpy9p_30o