One reason pro wrestling will probably stick around forever is that there are certain advantages to having everything scripted, such as making sure shocking underdog stories happen right on schedule, and celebrity guest appearances.
No other sport can do this -- while some NFL team might invite a famous actor or rapper to hang out on the sidelines or in the locker room, they're not going to let the dude go out and get crushed by a linebacker. But in wrestling, you can totally do this -- and for as long as wrestling has been popular, celebrities have been taking advantage. If it's all fake, why not have Donald Trump beat the shit out of Vince McMahon on live TV?
But sometimes these appearances get so awkward, cringe-worthy, or stupid that they wind up being undignified, even by pro wrestling standards.
#5. Jay Leno Takes on Hulk Hogan (and Wins)
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In 1998, wrestling was red hot and firmly in the mainstream. Everybody wanted in on the act, and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) just refused to say no. This is how they wound up having Jay Leno (yup, that one) fight Hulk Hogan. And not just fight him, but beat his ass. If it's still not clear to you why this made wrestling fans groan and roll their eyes, just look at it:
Hell, the referee looks like he could beat Leno to a pulp.
We get that wrestling fans don't demand gritty realism from their sport -- they're not stupid, they understand the concept of suspension of disbelief. But regardless of how ridiculous the storylines can get, at the very least they have to make it somewhat plausible that the guy who wins the match could actually have done it. You know, because both guys in the ring are professional wrestlers and it's not, say, a muscle-bound superman versus a pudgy middle-aged desk jockey.
There was actually a storyline behind this (because if Leno just showed up and started whaling on Hulk out of nowhere, that wouldn't have made any sense). Basically, Hulk Hogan was a heel (bad guy) at the time, and his manager was Eric Bischoff, the real-life president of WCW and most likely the guy you can blame for all of this bullshit. Bischoff's character randomly decided he wanted to be a talk-show host and launched the excruciating Nightcap, 30 minutes of intentionally awful jokes smack dab in the middle of WCW television. Every fucking week.
The torture only stopped when Jay Leno voiced his fake concern and challenged Hogan and Bischoff to a fight, because wrestling. There are lots of ways they could have resolved this without pretending Leno could actually wrestle anyone for five minutes without coughing up a lung, such as having him manage a real wrestler (like the WWE did with Donald Trump), but no, they instead set up a tag-team match. Leno went and found himself an actual wrestler for a partner, and the match was on.
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For the first time in his life, Hogan realizes he has chosen a ridiculous line of work.
Since Bischoff was not a wrestler and Leno was even less of one, you would think the two would just stand in their corners and work the crowd while their actual-wrestler partners handled 100 percent of the work. But no: They had to make the fat talk show guy look like a menacing physical threat, because he was famous. All two moves he successfully pulled off were "sold" (made to look good) by Hogan and Bischoff like they were applied by the mighty Thor.
This wasn't the high point of anyone's career.
And yes, Leno won. But it's not like his teammate got the pin for him; that would have actually made a modicum of sense. Nope, Jay fucking Leno pinned a man to win a match (he actually pinned Bischoff and not Hogan -- you have to think that this is where Hogan put his foot down). So the moral of the story that the WCW was apparently trying to convey is that wrestling is easy and absolutely any flabby dude can come in and immediately dominate.
#4. The Continuous Torture of Pete Rose
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You don't have to be a sports fan to have at least heard of Pete Rose. Let's put it this way: They've been playing major league baseball for 138 years (yes, really), and in all that time, nobody has had more hits than Rose. The only reason he isn't in the Baseball Hall of Fame is because of a gambling scandal that came to light after he retired. So even with that black mark on his career, he's still regarded as a legend. Or he was. Which brings us to his time with the WWE.
Now, when celebrities appear on wrestling, they're usually there to shill some project. Their involvement is usually limited to looking pretty and maybe walking a certain wrestler to the ring. When they do get "physically involved," it's always like the Leno situation earlier: The WWE lets them boost their egos by letting them "win" against guys twice their size. So, for instance, they let Snoop Doggy Dogg drop a wrestler named Santino Marella -- who is legitimately trained in MMA and could break Snoop in half on accident -- and even freakin' Bob Barker got to beat up wrestler Chavo Guerrero.
You can add in your own Happy Gilmore quote.
But in the case of former major league player and manager Pete Rose, it was the exact opposite. In a bizarre storyline that lasted for several years, Rose would appear at random, only to get beat up and humiliated each time. It all started at Wrestlemania XIV, where Rose, in the role of "special ring announcer," started running down the audience and making fun of the hometown team. It wasn't long before WWE star Kane made his way to the ring and Rose -- an out-of-shape man in his late 50s -- was on the receiving end of a move called a tombstone pile driver, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Then he gets dropped straight down, head first.
This started a yearly tradition where Rose would attempt to exact revenge on Kane in a running comedy bit that consisted of nothing more than Rose getting degraded in increasingly elaborate ways (with his full cooperation). Did he just need the money? How deep would your gambling debts have to be in order to do this:
"Pete, I have this great idea ... you're gonna love it."
If you're not sure what you're looking at, that huge mass to the left is the ass of 400-pound wrestler Rikishi ...
And, no, Rose wasn't the only guy he did this to.
... which he is rubbing vigorously in the face of the then 60-year-old baseball legend. This, if you were wondering, was Rikishi's signature move (called "the stinkface"). The events leading up to it started normally enough, with a guest appearance by the San Diego Chicken ...
You can see Rikishi's ass gearing up on the left.
... followed by Kane flying into a rage and trying to strangle said chicken to death (it's not completely clear if the chicken is an actual living being in the WWE universe, but more on that later):
At this point, Rose shows up with a baseball bat, intending to bash Kane's head in.
Rikishi's ass (left) is now warmed up and ready for some stinkface.
Rose is easily subdued, because he's a 60-year-old man, and given a choke slam that appears to have killed him. He is then propped in the corner of the ring, where Rikishi presses his asshole against Rose's mouth.
Can we agree that he's paid for his sins now?
This "rivalry" lasted for several years, and every time, the result would be the same. They even filmed a Halloween-themed commercial centered on Rose getting tricked and then treated to another choke slam. Of course, it was not all in vain, as Pete Rose wound up being the first inductee in the celebrity wing of WWE's Hall of Fame, which is probably the only Hall of Fame he will end up being part of.
#3. RoboCop Rescues Sting from a Giant Bird Cage
Now, say what you want about Leno and Rose, but at least they are actual people (and at least one was a former athlete). Where things get really confusing is when a promotional tie-in requires the wrestlers to treat some fictional character from a movie as real.
For instance, on one level, RoboCop makes way, way more sense as a celebrity wrestling guest than Jay Leno -- when he's on screen, he's usually throwing dudes across the room. But then you realize that the RoboCop franchise takes place in some unspecified future, presumably an alternate future where everyone owns both a robot and a Ford Taurus. So how the hell does he show up at a present-day wrestling match? Was there some kind of time portal? It doesn't have to be realistic, guys, just give us something to work with here.
"I sentence you, Robert Owen Cop, to 30 days of time travel wrestling."
The appearance happened at an NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) event in 1990. The NWA's most villainous group of baddies, the Four Horsemen, started a feud with Sting, the ultimate good-guy wrestler. Not even a valiant warrior like the Stinger could take on four men by himself, though, and, looking for someone to aid him in his fight, he went straight to the cyborg police of the future.
All right, this may in reality have had something to do with the fact that RoboCop 2 was opening and that the writers were instructed to work the character into a storyline while acknowledging the limitation that the guest actor can barely move while wearing the RoboCop suit.
Still, the NWA booked an entire show around this, even naming it "Capital Combat: Return of RoboCop." The only way they could think to include the character in the action -- knowing he couldn't do any actual wrestling in that suit without falling helplessly on his back like the little brother in A Christmas Story -- was to have the evil Horsemen trap Sting inside a "steel" cage ...
Let's just assume that it had a reason for being out there. It'll be our anchor to reality.
... prompting RoboCop to walk out very, very slowly (if you watch carefully, you can see the actor in the bulky suit almost trip at one point) ...
... and rescue Sting by bending the rubber bars of the cage and ripping off the door.
Then he pulled out his badass RoboCop gun and shredded them all.
Naturally, the Horsemen acted like cowardly losers, pretending to be scared off by the terrifying robot man from the future. Again, you have to assume that any actual wrestling with the man imprisoned in the costume had to be avoided at all cost, even though that's what every fan in the building had presumably come to see. Although it could also be that they were unclear if RoboCop was actually there in his capacity as a law enforcement officer and they were unsure if he had the jurisdiction to arrest them.
Yet, even with the time paradoxes and endless contradictions it introduced, this was still not the strangest fictional character crossover. That would have to be ...