By John Napolitano
After witnessing the man they call Sting make his WWE debut to an ovation of adulation in St. Louis, Missouri, at the 2014 Survivor Series, I proceeded to recollect and catalog my all-time favorite crowd pops in WWE history. As I regressed into the annals of WWE history, I surmised that crowd pops are the key to the occurrence of iconic moments. What is Hulk Hogan slamming Andre the Giant if no one cheers? Who would care for Daniel Bryan winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXX if the WWE Universe had sat on their hands for the entire match? The reactions or pop of the fanatics is what undoubtedly makes or breaks each and every moment in World Wrestling Entertainment, and I have assembled my five favorite hair-raising, bone-chilling, and adrenaline-pumping crowd pops over the decades.
5. Chris Jericho makes his debut on Monday Night Raw (1999)
For months, the WWE Universe sat with bated breath as a mysterious “Countdown to the Millennium” clock continued to randomly appear on Monday Night Raw. No one quite knew what the expiration of this countdown would bring, but it would surely be a monumental occurrence. On the August 9th edition of Monday Night Raw, the Countdown to the Millennium would come to an untimely conclusion, interrupting a heated promo from the “Great One,” The Rock. The rabid fanatics of Chicago, Illinois, sat with anticipation as a burst of pyrotechnics erupted and an unfamiliar music video appeared on the titantron. The lull of the Chicago crowd turned into mass hysteria when the titantron then read “JERICHO.” The former underappreciated WCW Superstar, Chris Jericho, was now in World Wrestling Entertainment and basking in the bombastic approbation of the WWE Universe. He would go onto verbally spar with the “Brahma Bull,” The Rock, and take part in one of the most famous segments in Monday Night Raw history. As far as debuts go, Chris Jericho set the bar in the summer of 1999, and the WWE Universe ate up every bit of it.
4. Dolph Ziggler cashes in his Money in the Bank Contract (2013)
It was about damn time when Dolph Ziggler cashed in his Money in the Bank Contract on the April 8th edition of Monday Night Raw. The battered and bruised World Heavyweight Champion, Alberto Del Rio, was absolutely vulnerable as the man who won the Money in the Bank Contract nearly a year prior set his sights on his second major title victory in the WWE. The insatiably riotous crowd of the Izod Center erupted when Ziggler’s music hit the arena, but that ovation was nothing compared to when Referee Scott Armstrong’s hand hit the mat for the three count. Finally, the workhorse, Dolph Zigger, was the World Heavyweight Champion, and the WWE Universe congratulated him with an earsplitting explosion of emotion. Dolph Ziggler’s successes in 2013 would start and end with that title victory, but it will surely stand out in history as one of the loudest and evocative moments ever.
3. Brock Lesnar returns to the WWE (2012)
One of the loudest receptions of the PG Era took place in Miami, Florida, on the April 2nd edition of Monday Night Raw. Imagine the excitement of 19,000 members of the WWE Universe witnessing the return of the “Next Big Thing,” Brock Lesnar. John Cena stood in the center of the ring and called out his bitter rival, The Rock. After what seemed like hours of silence, it was not The Rock’s music, but rather Brock Lesnar’s music that blasted throughout the American Airlines Arena, and the place went haywire. In the famous words of Michael Cole, “The American Airlines Arena has come unglued!” After an eight-year absence, the “Beast Incarnate,” Brock Lesnar had returned to the WWE, and his eyes were locked on John Cena. The frenzy of exhilaration did not cease at any point leading up to Brock Lesnar ultimately hoisting Cena up on his shoulders and planting him with an F5. Lesnar capped off the night by kicking John Cena’s hat to the side and receiving adoration from everyone in attendance. Not only will Brock Lesnar’s return go down as one of the most historic moments in Monday Night Raw history, but as one of the most thunderous receptions in WWE history.
2. The Rock returns as the Host of WrestleMania XXVII (2011)
When The Rock returned to the WWE on the February 14th edition of Monday Night Raw, the WWE Universe produced a deafening chorus of cheers and screams that rivaled actual militaristic cannon fire. The WWE Universe was promised that on this night the Host of WrestleMania XXVII would be revealed, but no one was prepared for the return of the “Great One,” The Rock. As the arena went dark and the anticipation began to build, members of the WWE Universe in attendance and watching at home could hardly wait for this epic unveiling. After several seconds of silence, the WWE Universe was embraced with the ever-invigorating lyrics, “IF YOU CAN SMELL.. WHAT THE ROCK..IS COOKING!” All at once everyone in attendance jumped to their feet and unleashed a howl of elation as The Rock emerged from the curtain and delighted the fancies of all onlookers. It is physically impossible to watch this awe-inspiring moment and not experience a sensation of utter enthusiasm.
1. Steve Austin assists Mankind in winning the WWE Championship (1999)
My all-time favorite crowd pop in WWE history took place on the January 4th edition of Monday Night Raw when Stone Cold Steve Austin interfered in the main event to help Mankind win the WWE Championship, and stick it to the Corporation. WWE Commissioner, Shawn Michaels, promised Mr. McMahon at the start of the show that he would be in for a “stone cold surprise.” Later on when Mankind held Shane McMahon, Mr. McMahon’s son, hostage to gain a WWE Championship opportunity against The Rock in the main event, the stage was set for the loudest and most thrilling crowd pop of all time. The match was a no disqualification melee that saw D-Generation X in Mankind’s corner and the Corporation in The Rock’s corner. It did not take long for things to break down at ringside between D-Generation X and the Corporation. The anarchy between the two warring factions provided the perfect window for a “stone cold surprise.” When Stone Cold Steve Austin’s music hit the arena, the most booming reaction ever generated from a live audience came from the WWE Universe. The Corporation was not as delighted to see Steve Austin, as he took a steel chair and bounced it off the skull of The Rock and dragged Mankind’s lifeless body over The Rock. When Senior Referee, Earl Hebner, hit the mat for the three count, the energy in the arena increased tenfold as Mankind was the new WWE Champion. Never in my life have I witnessed such joy and jubilation in one place, and I can only imagine what it was like to be in attendance.
What are your favorite crowd pops of all time? Tweet me @JohnNap17 and let me know!