At its core, pro wrestling is an intricately planned dance. A brutal and hard hitting dance, but a dance nonetheless – one that requires coordination and pinpoint accuracy to succeed. Something going wrong is the biggest fear of every performer in the ring, but also inevitable given the sheer number of wrestlers and performers participating in wrestling matches every week.
What sets apart greatness is being able to take an inopportune moment, run with it, and turn it into an advantage. Sometimes this leads to an outcome just as good as the original plan, and on rare occasions can help show the way to something even better! Those rare occasions are what deserve a closer look: just what about these situations enabled the wrestler and surrounding players to think on their feet and rise above? Let’s find out.
5 Botches That Ended Up Working Out For The Best
The Dark Order Whiffs (AEW Dynamite; December 18, 2019)
During the early days of All Elite Wrestling, The Dark Order were a study in contrast. A foreboding presence attacking their enemies with a swarm of anonymous “creepers”, they felt a bit like a self-parody in the ring. Ostensible leader Evil Uno moved and worked with the cartoonish exaggerations of a 70’s territory heel rather than a brutal taskmaster. While his promos were appropriately blood-curdling, it wasn’t being backed up when it mattered. This tension broke during a Dynamite segment in late 2019 when a creeper right in center frame of the camera left his punches about a foot and a half short of his intended victim, Dustin Rhodes. Dark Order were now at risk of being an unintended laughing stock.
The way Dark Order swiftly came back from the brink of disaster was amazing. Within a few weeks, a new unseen figure was berating and expelling the mistaken creeper as a mole and giving orders to Uno and Stu Grayson alike. That figure was revealed to be Brodie Lee, whose projection of strength and brutality in and out of the ring allowed Dark Order to focus on a smaller number of fleshed out characters who deliver impact and menace during matches. This led the group to new heights of success, allowing them to hilariously play against type on Being The Elite, to huge receptions, and also to claim the TNT title for their own. Even now that they no longer have that strap, there’s no sign of their influence in AEW slowing down.
The Man Is Born (WWE Raw; November 12, 2018)
Once Becky Lynch finally had enough and jumped her friend Charlotte Flair at Summerslam 2018, WWE brass did not know how to navigate it. Tentative scripts had Becky insulting and decrying a lack of support from fans who were cheering and chanting for her in the exact same moment. While Becky may have been trying to pull off a textbook heel turn, wrestling fans understood exactly where she was coming from. The frustration, the long-denied success, the omnipresence of the Queen – it was enough to make anyone snap. We got it, and were behind her as her aggression let loose.
Becky started to lean into that support, anger turning to assuredness. She proclaimed herself “The Man” as she approached a spotlight match with Ronda Rousey (who had a rocket already strapped to her back) at the cross-brand Survivor Series PPV. Smackdown’s female roster then came to invade RAW in advance of the clash.
Lynch kicked this off by getting Rousey in the DisarmHer in the locker room, then swaggering to the ring with reinforcements and taking control. Control of any kind went out the window, however, when Raw’s Nia Jax whirled and drilled Lynch in the face. Her full-swing punch busted Becky open the hard way and broke bones in the process. Of course, this was not the idea going in. Jax simply misjudged the distance – it happens, and was not the first or last example involving a simple punch. However, it may be the one that stumbled upon the biggest blessing in disguise.
To her credit, Lynch got herself up off the mat and used a chair to beat down the resilient Rousey without missing a beat. She then strode out through the crowd with a level of F You aplomb befitting a peak rock star. That image has been re-played thousands of times since, instantly becoming a legendary moment in the journey of the Lass Kicker.
Had the match gone off as scheduled, Lynch would almost certainly have put over Rousey as part of the latter’s ongoing meteoric rise. A clean victory for Ronda would have meant the rivalry could be quickly forgotten. Instead, being out for a bit to heal her injury let Lynch continue to find herself on the mic (and on Twitter) before nailing it as a badass babyface in the Stone Cold mold. This extended to her dominating in the ring again as Smackdown champion. Her beef with Ronda got to simmer, stretch out, and deepen as a result of this delay.
By the time Becky won the Royal Rumble, both women’s characters and their exchanged insults were at a fever pitch. In the meantime, Lynch had become one of the biggest draws in the sport. This fueled their match all the way up the card to the main event of WrestleMania (along with Flair), and it all started from a fist thrown a few inches too far.
The Great One Slips (NJPW Super J Cup; April 16, 1994)
When two legends of the business meet, expectations will be at an all time high. When The Great Sasuke and Jushin “Thunder” Liger met in New Japan over 15 years ago, Sasuke wasn’t yet the star he’d become. Liger was the known commodity, playing a super adept heel in beating down Sasuke early on: waving and playing to the crowd, trying various submissions for the most thorough and embarrassing win rather than pinning Sasuke. He didn’t pull his lesser-known opponent up at 2, but the vibe was the same. Sasuke got the crowd on his side even more with counter kicks and exciting Asai moonsaults, but still had to chase the match.
That is, until the end. Liger knocked Sasuke down on the apron, then let his guard down to sell how unconcerned he still was within this match. Sasuke grasped the ropes for a springboard hurricanrana (Rey Mysterio Jr. would popularize the very same move in ECW and WCW not long after this), pounced…and fell straight off the rope. This being the planned finish, neither man has a set idea of what they’re supposed to do. Liger, legend that he is, doesn’t miss a beat and milks it for all it’s worth. His mock applause and mad gesticulations were pure improvised brilliance. This let Sasuke collect himself, get up off the canvas, and shock the crowd by leaping into the move right from his flat feet for the pin.
The fall off the ropes ultimately served Sasuke’s win in two ways: it reminded everyone that Sasuke was the still-developing underdog, and teased the finish so that people were anticipating it – and letting them explode when he hit it and won. All because both men adapted seamlessly.
The Champ Forgets The Fine Print (NWA; February 11, 1969)
Dating back to the dawn of pro wrestling as a work, the title scene and champion were portrayed as legit as possible so as to keep up the illusion. Part of this included matches for the world championship being 2 out of 3 falls as a standard, so nobody could leave with any doubt as to who the better grappler was. This continued well into the TV era before going by the wayside, but there were speed bumps along the way.
Reigning NWA heavyweight champ Gene Kiniski faced an up-and-coming Dory Funk Jr. at a show in Florida with nothing seemingly out of the ordinary. The youngster pushes the veteran, going all-out in pursuit of the title, and ultimately he even takes the first fall through what would become the patented Funk family spinning toehold. Except as Kiniski laid on the mat, something odd happened – the bell rang. Then Funk Jr. was handed the title belt and started jumping up and down. Wasn’t this curious?
Nope. Because the match was plainly scheduled as a one-fall match. Kiniski wasn’t supposed to lose that fall, or the belt, in this match. But he forgot the rules (thinking it was 2 out of 3 falls) and plainly submitted to the eyes and ears of everyone around. Since kayfabe was still being strictly kept, there was no evil commissioner to come restart the match. They simply had to move on – and Funk would, proving popular outside Florida and becoming a huge draw. He then went on to reign for over 2,000 days following his accidental coronation, a run that went down in history, as he turned into an all-time wrestling legend. Turns out Gene did the business a giant favor!
The Boss Blows A Gasket (WWE Royal Rumble 2005)
The 2005 Royal Rumble came amidst not just a brand split, but an ongoing story about the competition between Raw and SmackDown as the latter tried to stake a claim to be the lead program. Naturally, the last two men standing included a member of each show: Batista (Raw) and John Cena (SD). Both were just starting to emerge as possible tentpoles for their respective rosters. Whichever man won would take a huge a leap towards superstardom and the world title picture. The only question was who… and it was a question that lingered much longer than intended.
Batista battled it out with Cena, gained an edge, and picked him up for what would soon become a familiar sight – his trademark powerbomb. This time Batista targeted not the mat, but the floor and a final elimination. Except as Cena went out, he brought Batista with him and both men hit so close in time as to be indistinguishable. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Bret Hart and Lex Luger did the same thing in 1994 and crowd response ultimately got Bret booked to the top and the big belt. That tie was intentional, planned, and executed excellently. THIS, however, was supposed to be a clean Batista win. Now, in his would-be moment of triumph, it was chaos.
The immediate reaction of those around the chaos is incredible and downright admirable in retrospect. As if on cue, the Raw refs raised Batista’s arm while SmackDown refs pointed to Cena and then did the same for him. Neither side gave an inch, as Batista and Cena each took turns tossing the other out over the top again for emphasis while things got settled. The lack of certainty on how to figure this out is reflected in the legit shoot anger all over Vince McMahon’s face as he loudly swears his way to the ring, famously jumping in so hard that he tore both quads from the bone simultaneously. Under his orders, they re-started the match and the planned winner (Batista) earned a clean victory.
The improvised tug of war actually made for extremely compelling viewing, and had more widespread implications than the planned finish could have hoped for. It made the brand competition feel incredibly real and high-stakes – given a title shot was in the balance – as Raw guys and SD guys all stuck together. Each man had an argument that he’d won, which sent a message that Cena could hang with an imposing figure like Batista. This allowed him to continue to blossom towards stardom without much of a hiccup, while Batista did the same in dethroning Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania. Given all that both men went on to do in WWE, there may not be a happier and more impactful accident in the history of the business.