From the golden days of AWA to the PG era of WWE, there has been one constant in wrestling, and that’s the swerve. Whether it’s a once heartless grappler realizing the error of their ways or a babyface crossing over to the darkside, you can always count on some behavorial shifting in crowd favorites and bad guys.
While the history of Wrestlemania is rich in feelgood moments, it has seen its fair share of treachery over the years as well. Now is the perfect time to explore some of the most memorable turns from WWE’s signature event.
10. Degenerates Sell Out
Swerves were trending during Wrestlemania 15 in 1999. That year, (Masked Corporate) Kane and Triple H were involved in a heated rivalry that included Chyna accidentally taking a fireball intended for Hunter to the face. When it came time to settle the score, Kane had to fend off attempted ambushes by both Triple H and Pete Rose, the latter of whom attacked the Big Red Machine in a chicken suit before the match could even begin. Having already recently crossed him to join the Corporation, an appearance by Chyna looked to be bad news for the DX captain, but things took a dramatic turn when she nailed Kane with a chair. Trips lost by DQ but gained an old friend as Chyna rejoined the group.
The DX reunion would be short-lived as snakes revealed their venomous intentions. Chyna and Trips came out to support stable mate Xpac as he squared off against Shane McMahon – another match pitting DX against the Corporation. Pac was attacked by everyone, including corporate stooges Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson, the Mean Street Posse, Test, and finally Triple H, whose Pedigree allowed Shane to steal the win. This swerve made Trips and Chyna members of the Corporation, while defining what was essentially the precursor to the infamous McMahon-Helmsley era.
9. A Giant Stands Up
Andre the Giant was the main force in The Heenan Family prior to Wrestlemania 3 and going into Wrestlemania 6. Having failed to beat Hulk Hogan and put over rising star the Ultimate Warrior, the once dominant big man seemed to be losing his way completely until the Colossal Connection. Comprised of the Giant and fellow Heenan Family member Haku, the Colossal Connection dropped their WWF tag team titles at WrestleMania 6 to Demolition, who they’d beat previously for the belts. The most memorable moment here was the aftermath, which saw Bobby Heenan blaming Andre for the loss and even slapping him in the face. Andre returned with a giant slap of his own, which knocked Heenan out of the ring and drew massive applause of the crowd.
8. Brutus Cuts Out a New Niche
Brutus Beefcake was one of the first heels I recall liking – of course I would never admit this back in those days. When Wrestlemania 3 rolled around, he was one half of former tag team champions the Dream Team, who faced the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers at the event. Despite getting the win, Beefcake ended up out in the cold when partner Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and manager Luscious Johnny Valiant left him behind for new Dream Team member Dino Bravo.
Later that night, Beefcake would return to the ring with clippers to shave the head of Adrian Adonis after Adonis was put to sleep and beat by Rowdy Roddy Piper. The significance of this moment was the birth of Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, who for a period, would become a huge crowd favorite in WWF.
7. From Pretty Boy to Model
When it comes to wrestling technicians, Rick Martel has to be one of the most underrated in history. Although it was clear that he wouldn’t reach the world title status he ascended to in AWA, Martel was extremely over in WWF, first as a member of the Can Am Connection, then Strike Force. After returning from injury, Martel reformed Strike Force at Wrestlemania 5 with his former tag team champion partner Tito Santana to take on the Brain Busters – Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard of Four Horsemen fame. An accidental “flying burrito” from Santana led to Martel refusing to tag in and officially severing Strike Force. Shortly thereafter, he adopted the ultra arrogant gimmick of “The Model”.
6. Big Show Snaps
Going back to his WCW days of the Giant, Big Show is probably approaching the record for highest number of face/heel turns. Show was up to his old wishy washy ways at Wrestlemania 15 when he faced Mankind. According to the match stipulation, the winner would be named special referee for the WWF title bout later between Steve Austin and “Corporate” champion Rock. With McMahon looking to stack the deck against Austin, he came out to express how irate he was over the fact that Big Show lost via disqualification, which automatically gave Corporate nuisance Mankind that special designation. After taking all the verbal abuse he could stomach, Big Show floored Vince and walked off to cheers.
5. Wonderful Ways Exposed
Hulk Hogan and Mr. T won the main event at the very first Wrestlemania when Cowboy Bob Orton mistakenly nailed Paul Orndorff with the loaded cast off the top rope. Following the match, Piper and Orton left Orndorff in the ring while Hogan and T actually helped him to his feet. This would lead to the slow and powerful face turn of Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff. Ironically, Orndorff’s turn would come full circle into what was one of the most heartbreaking heel turns ever. I’m talking about when he clotheslined then friend Hogan on WWF Superstars and joined The Heenan Family, literally leaving me in tears. These two would go on to to have one of the most memorable feuds of the mid 80s.
4. The Real American Returns
The nWo in WWE was pretty much a flop, yet epic levels of cool while it lasted. After all, it gave us the Rock vs. Hollywood Hogan at Wrestlemania 18. Legacies and vengeance gave this one tremendous buildup as the nWo, led by Hogan, put the Rock through the type of hell that would’ve killed a normal man. But the crowd was behind Hogan, and their support soared by end of the match when after losing, he shook the Rock’s hand to show the ultimate sign of respect. Fellow nWo mates Scott Hall and Kevin Nash didn’t take kindly to this act and attacked Hogan. Rock came out for the save, he and Hogan posed in the ring, and that was officially the last we saw of Hollywood.
3. A King Becomes a Man
The Ultimate Warrior has a horrendous rap for being one of the worst performers in wrestling history. I tend to disagree, and the classic at Wrestlemania 7 is the reason. Emotions for this one were extremely high as Warrior sought revenge for the Macho King costing him the WWF Championship to Sgt. Slaughter at the Royal Rumble. The stakes were also elevated because Savage put his career on the line. After 20 minutes of epic storytelling, Savage lost, resulting in Macho Queen Sherri attacking him as he lay defeated. Miss Elizabeth, who was shown several times in the crowd during the match, rushed the ring, fought off Sherri, and helped Macho to his feet. This was indeed a feelgood moment that reunited wrestling’s first couple, turned Savage face, and truly cemented him as one of the all-time greats in the ring.
2. Stone Cold Joins Satan
Wrestlemania 17 will go down as one of the most memorable events in history and this match stands out most. At the time, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock were the two biggest stars in the business, and with Vince lurking, something crazy was bound to happen. There was brawling. There was blood. There was a swerve that changed the course of the company when Austin took a chair from ‘The Boss’, wore out the People’s Champ, scored the tainted win and stole the title. The show closed with Austin and Vince sharing a beer in the ring – and JR of course, losing his flipping mind on commentary.
Looking back, this has to be one of the most controversial swerves ever considering the before and after. Austin had a four-year run as the face of the company, and factoring in their history, siding with Vince was about the last thing you would expect. Some said the Stone Cold character had grown stale and needed a change. Others say creative wrongly pulled the trigger and tarnished Austin’s legacy. What can’t be argued is how shocking it was.
1. Legends Blaze Two Historic Trails
Many fans point to the feud with Vince McMahon but looking back, it may have been Wrestlemania 13 that ignited the meteoric rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin. The No DQ submission match with Bret Hart was a slugfest that spilled out into the crowd, saw the use of numerous weapons, and resulted in Austin losing what at the time looked to be pints of blood. In a scene reminiscent of Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes, rather than submitting, Austin blacked out from the pain of the Sharpshooter, forcing special guest referee Ken Shamrock to ring the bell. Not satisfied with the victory, Hart continued to punish Austin after the match, opening him up to an altercation with Shamrock and boos from the crowd.
This match gets the top spot for the simple fact that it featured a gamechanging double swerve. Fan favorite Bret Hart became a hated villain who would go on to lead a heel version of the Hart Foundation before being victimized in the infamous Montreal Screwjob, and leaving for WCW. Austin, of course, went on to become the insanely popular beer guzzling, bird flipping, SOB who played a huge role in revolutionizing the so-called Attitude Era of pro wrestling and helping the WWE win the Monday Night Wars.
Swerves typically stand out based on shock value alone, but when they play out on wrestling’s grandest stage, they stay etched in our memory forever. What are some of your most memorable Wrestlemania moments – swerves or otherwise?