Torch Flashbacks FLASHBACK: Fans riot at WWE events?, It happened 15 years ago
Dec 13, 2012 - 5:00:26 PM
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"Fans rioting" and "WWE live events" usually don't go together when thinking about today's WWE. However, 15 years ago this week in December 1997, two separate house shows ended early due to fan rioting. As the Attitude Era began to pick up, so did fan aggression.
PWTorch Newsletter Flashback - 15 years ago
Originally Published: Torch Newsletter 471
Cover Story: Two nights of fan riots at WWF live events
Subheadline: Michaels and Hunter refuse to wrestle two straight nights due to fan unruliness, leads to fights among fans
Cover Story by Wade Keller, PWTorch Newsletter
Fan riots broke out two nights in a row at WWF house shows over the weekend. Dec. 14 in Memphis, Tenn. and Dec. 15 in Little Rock, Ark., debris throwing by fans got so bad that the main event each night was cancelled. Each night, when it was announced to the crowd that the card was over and the main event was cancelled, fans became even more unruly. In Little Rock, the chaos didn't quell until over 30 minutes later.
In Memphis, Shawn Michaels and Hunter Hearst Helmsley walked out before wrestling their match because fans threw garbage at them, ending the card on an extremely flat note. DX were scheduled to wrestle Jerry Lawler & Jeff Jarrett in the customized Memphis main event. Everyone was on edge leading up to the main event for a variety of reasons. Michaels's fuse was especially short because before the match Lawler put up a fuss about doing a job to him in the tag match, even though after the match Lawler, Jarrett, and Brian Christopher were booked to clear the ring of DX and end the show on an up note. Ironically, Lawler used to always tell wrestlers in the Memphis circuit when he was champion, "If you can't lose to the champion, who can you lose to?" Lawler pulled a Bret Hart or a Pierre Lafitte by not wanting to job "in front of his hometown fans."
Undertaker wrestled the last match before intermission in Memphis. When he returned from the back, his ring outfit was soaked with spit. Fans were not just throwing debris at wrestlers, but they took to spitting at them as they walked to and from the ring. Security didn't do anything about it, thinking it was part of the show. That upset the wrestlers even more.
Fans had started throwing garbage at Henry Godwinn, who stood at ringside for the semi-final. When he got backstage afterward, he was so upset he began kicking at chairs in frustration with the lack of order in the arena. When Michaels, Hunter, and Chyna came to the ring for their match, Hunter did some heel mic work. Michaels followed with heel comments of his own. As fans began tossing bottles and cups at the ring, Michaels said, "We're leaving." They left, and at first it appeared to be part of an angle.
Dude Love eventually came out and introduced Lawler & Jarrett, who hadn't come out yet. He also said DX would not come back out if fans didn't stop throwing things at the ring. As they talked, some debris continued to be thrown into the ring. Dude said, "Maybe if we all close our eyes and make a wish, DX will be back in the ring." The road agents were running back and forth from the ring to the locker room, making it appear as if what was happening wasn't a planned angle at all. In reality, as Dude was trying to calm the fans, Michaels and Hunter had already changed into street clothes. Management was behind Michaels and Hunter totally and agreed the situation was unsafe.
The referee eventually came back out and said that due to "unsportsmanlike conduct by the crowd," DX was refusing to return, and therefore declared Lawler and Jarrett the winners via forfeit. A full cup of beer was then thrown into the ring and hit Lawler in the head. Some fights in the crowd broke out as some fans were upset with those fans who threw things, costing everyone the main event match they paid to see. Security had to separate some of the fans. Fans were upset with the WWF and other fans as they left.
On the WWF 900 line, Ross said the decision for DX not to return to the ring was a decision by management backstage, and not a refusal to return to the ring by Michaels and Hunter. He said the debris thrown at the wrestlers reached dangerous levels, although eyewitness reports said it didn't seem quite that excessive. Ross said: "The WWF made the right decision. The safety of the performers and the fans comes first. It's sad a certain small segment of ignorant drunks ruined the show for everybody else."
The next day local television affiliates in Memphis were bombarded with calls complaining about the situation. When the box office refused to offer refunds, a group of several dozen fans protested outside of the television news station.
The next night in Little Rock, in an apparent coincident, pretty much the same situation played out. Throughout the show fans were throwing debris and spitting at the wrestlers despite several warnings throughout the night by the ring announcer to stop. Security was casual about the conduct of the fans, which allowed the situation to snowball as the card progressed. They even threw debris during a presentation of a plaque by Shawn Michaels to an area celebrity during the card.......
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