Hell in a Cell 2018 concluded with Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman laying stiller than slabs after a Brock Lesnar assault, and there weren't many folks expecting that sight. Maybe Reigns wins per his usual supercharged comeback beneath a torrent of boos, or maybe Strowman reigns supreme after an assist from Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler. But a non-finish perpetrated by an oft-invisible beast didn't come to mind.
But the finish was hardly the most unexpected pay-per-view conclusion in wrestling history. Over the years, monthly specials have gone off the air with sights that simply did not compute, many of which were far more resonant than a lazy crowd-killer like at Hell in a Cell. Here are 10 of the most unexpected curtain calls ever.
10. Death From Above (Survivor Series 2000)
If you're gonna book a non-finish, book a *real* non-finish. Forget F5s and chair shots and all that stuff - piddling child's play, if you ask me. No, what you need to do is brawl with your opponent to the outside of the building, wait until they get behind the wheel of a car so that they can try to run you down, and then lift them up with an industrial forklift, before dropping them 25 feet to their apparent demise.
That's what Steve Austin did to Triple H at the conclusion of the 14th annual Survivor Series, testing the very limits of the event title itself. Certainly, nobody expected a true "end Game" that night in Tampa. But fear not - Hunter was back on Raw not long after with nary a scratch. Sturdy fellow, he is.
9. Cemented Legacy (Great American Bash 2004)
This incident spawned one of my all-time favourite internet headlines, in the wake of Undertaker apparently murdering Paul Bearer via a tub of wet cement. Not long after the Bash, Bearer did an interview where he discussed the angle, and the headline read: "Paul Bearer Comments On His Death". I laughed for a long time after. It's even funnier if you imagine him doing the interview in character.
But yes, if you've never seen this moment, drop everything and fire up the Network, and behold the strangest main event ever: The Undertaker vs. The Dudley Boyz in a handicap "Concrete Crypt" match, where Paul Heyman authorized the piling on of wet cement onto Bearer, who was tied up inside of a glass case (of emotion). Undertaker was supposed to lay down in order to save Bearer, but won anyway. And then, for reasons, he pulled the lever and killed Bearer himself. Yep.
8. A New Streak (Survivor Series 2016)
Okay, enough death. Let's move on to matters that were stunning in a jolted "WTF?!" manner, and not the narrow-eyed, raised-hands "yo, seriously, WTF" way. In this case, Bill Goldberg, still a frightening force at near-50, was brought back for a match with old nemesis Brock Lesnar, with Brock presumably going over after a short, but titanic, struggle.
Well, it was short, all right. Nobody saw Goldberg mopping the floor with Lesnar over a 90-second stretch coming. We all assumed Goldberg's performance was a one-and-done, but he signed an extension to work through WrestleMania 33, so "Da Man" got the win here in order to set up the eventual rematch. But man, when Lesnar didn't kick out of that Jackhammer, you couldn't even count the slacked jaws.
7. Earliest Withdrawl (New Year's Revolution 2006)
A blood-caked John Cena won the Elimination Chamber main event to retain his WWE Championship, leaving the crowd in Albany feeling a little bemused (the loud Cena-haters, anyway). Just when it seemed like the night was going to end on that note, out came Vince McMahon with a proclamation. For the first time ever, we had a Money in the Bank cash-in, he said. Suddenly, the mood inside the building changed.
After toting the briefcase for nine months, Edge emphatically handed it over to Vince (in a truly cool moment), stormed the ring, and ploughed through what was left of Cena to capture his first World title. While these days the briefcase-carriers spur more speculation, when Edge carried the case, there was no "cash-in" template for fans to be aware of. Edge essentially invented the cash-in that night, showing us all what one looked like. That's where the surprise was truly golden.
6. The Heist Of The Century (WrestleMania 31)
You know what you were thinking. DOO doot. DOO doot. DOO doot. DOOT DOOT DOO doot. You were expecting to hear that after chosen-one Roman Reigns conquered Brock Lesnar before 75,000+ in Santa Clara, that Reigns' ascension to the top of WWE was as inevitable as your next blink. And that would have happened, until WWE called an audible roughly an hour before main event time.
When Seth Rollins scurried down to the ring carrying his golden luggage, suddenly the complexion of the match changed. Rollins Curb-Stomped his way to the WWE Championship, stapling a critically-acclaimed ending to 'Mania 31, allowing its admission into the pantheon of greatest WrestleManias of all time. Calling this a "pleasant surprise" would be an understatement to many.
5. Hulk Must Pose (WrestleMania IX)
Two months before WrestleMania IX, Hulk Hogan was largely persona non grata in WWE, and it looked certain that this WrestleMania would be the first without the red and yellow. When Hogan made his return as part of an angle with Brutus Beefcake and Money Inc, he still bore no connection to the main event, a WWE title match between Bret Hart and Yokozuna.
When Yoko won the belt via nefarious means, a chain of events was set into motion, in which Hogan first ran down to protest the decision, only to find himself being challenged to an impromptu match by Mr. Fuji on the new champion's behalf. Thirty seconds later, Hogan was dropping the leg on a downed Yokozuna, capturing his fifth WWE title. This was a rather shocking turn of events, especially for Hart, who only learned of these plans two days before the show.
4. Lame In The USA (SummerSlam 1993)
When Hulkamania was unceremoniously put out to pasture, Vince went down to the pound and got himself a new American Hero: a re-costumed Lex Luger, who had taken to riding the Lex Express campaign bus around the United States as a manner of winning fans. The end of the road would be the 1993 SummerSlam, where he would battle devious foreigner Yokozuna (their characterization, not mine) for the WWE Championship.
It should be noted that, per the stipulation, this would be Luger's *only shot* at the WWE Championship, so clearly he was going to win, right? And yeah, he won - by countout. Luger nailed Yoko with his steel-plated forearm smash, knocking the champ through the ropes, where he lay motionless as the referee administered the count. Luger celebrated with fellow babyfaces beneath balloons and confetti - but wasn't the champ. Yeah, that was bad.
3. The Mother Of All Heel Turns (Bash At The Beach 1996)
We cross over into the WCW terrain because you can't have a list without this particular conclusion. When Scott Hall and Kevin Nash promised to introduce a "third man" in their battle with Sting, Lex Luger, and Randy Savage, tensions and speculation both ran high. Who would be nefarious enough to align with these Outsiders in their quest to dismantle WCW?
When yellow-and-red-clad Hulk Hogan hit the ring in the match's final stages, he seemed to be there to defend WCW's honour. Then he dropped the big leg on a prone Savage, and that's when all hell broke loose. Trash rained down upon the ring, as the New World Order continued their beatdown, with Hogan justifying his actions over the mic, in what is probably the greatest promo of his entire career.
2. Yeah, This Again (Survivor Series 1997)
Wrestling fans have discussed Montreal more often than they've discussed the weather, and for many, it's beating a dead horse long after it's been wedged into the glue stick container. That doesn't make the ending any less stupefying, no matter how many times it's been over-referenced, and no matter how often it's been brainlessly recreated in other angles for shock value.
The sight of Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Vince McMahon, among others, either expressing genuine reactions or feigned ones, in the aftermath of the "f**king bell" being rung still resonates two decades later. The incident, and its aftermath, were part of a landmark night that would change the perception of McMahon as a person. Inadvertently, it gave McMahon the character design needed for matching up with Steve Austin, in launching the counterstrike that would allow WWE to race past WCW for good.
1. The Bitter End (WrestleMania X-Seven)
The consensus is that the end of WrestleMania X-Seven was effectively the night that the lights upon the wrestling boom were dimmed. WCW and ECW were hoisted upon mortuary slabs, and many of the trendies had moved on to shiny new interests elsewhere. WrestleMania X-Seven, while hailed as the greatest pay-per-view of all time, ended with an image appropriate for the end of an era.
The sight of McMahon aiding arch-nemesis Austin in his destruction of The Rock was at first confusing, and later...well, still confusing. Their handshake over Rock's battered body cemented a totally unexpected shift, that Austin was embracing shadiness in order to stay afloat. The Austin that everybody knew was gone, and with it, so too was the vaunted Attitude Era. And nobody saw it coming.