10 Iconic Wrestling Storylines Summed Up In A Single Frame

In which beer is used as a metaphor three times.

Bret Owen
WWE Network

WWE is a carny pro wrestling racket dressed up as a corporate entertainment conglomerate. It is a work that lies to itself, in addition to the outside world, and so of course those at the helm are going to bullsh*t us.

There are endless examples of hypocrisy and mendacity, and they're often informed by a certain arrogance. They know what's best. They are so successful that it's automatic. And they will tell the talent that they must learn how to work for the camera when they join WWE.

This arcane process can take years, it's so complex. The local indy can't help, sorry, and nor can checks notes the instincts evolved for years and years of a life captured, at the reach of pocket, by everybody with a smartphone. Everybody is a performer now, on some level.

On this week's Dynamite, MJF sh*t a brick when he heard Jon Moxley's music hit. He conveyed this fear - and put Mox over as a badass - by shooting a panicked look to the camera. He knew his chirping had landed him in bother, and he let the mask of hubris slip. He didn't need five years of Performance Center training to accomplish this.

Obviously, nothing from modern WWE can appear on this list - how can you play to their camera without working like a coked-up DVD screensaver? - but they knew what they were doing, once upon a time...

10. Austin Vs. McMahon

Bret Owen

WWE isn't fun anymore.

It's not a lot of things anymore, but there's such a portentous and "gritty" vibe about everything. It's all steeped in personal failures and the all-forgiving brand that rehabs a Randy Orton or redeems a Drew McIntyre. Everything takes itself so seriously, and is so punishingly dull - remember when Edge was a laugh? - and yet it also extracts eyeballs and has ninjas running about an empty gym.

The tragic postscript of Austin Vs. McMahon is that McMahon won: he effectively subdued the talent that followed Austin, and slathered WWE in a slick corporate ethos that punishes defiance and expression.

But it was, when in full effect, one of the greatest storylines in professional wrestling history. Austin was an hilarious badass megastar, McMahon the exquisite, hammy ar*ehole corporate overlord. That irresistible dynamic, powered by as much charisma as talent, was explored in a tremendously entertaining and wildly unpredictable shared universe under a superb, reliable and logical formula. McMahon was an ar*ehole. Austin outsmarted him. Rinse, repeat, ratings. The tonal balance was magnificent. The comedy never once compromised the drama; it only accentuated it.

This image, from the beer bath, is the greatest summation of it; Austin, every week, provided an eruption of catharsis.


Michael Sidgwick is an editor, writer and podcaster for WhatCulture Wrestling. With over seven years of experience in wrestling analysis, Michael was published in the influential institution that was Power Slam magazine, and specialises in providing insights into All Elite Wrestling - so much so that he wrote a book about the subject. You can order Becoming All Elite: The Rise Of AEW on Amazon. Possessing a deep knowledge also of WWE, WCW, ECW and New Japan Pro Wrestling, Michael’s work has been publicly praised by former AEW World Champions Kenny Omega and MJF, and surefire Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Cody Rhodes. When he isn’t putting your finger on why things are the way they are in the endlessly fascinating world of professional wrestling, Michael wraps his own around a hand grinder to explore the world of specialty coffee. Follow Michael on X (formerly known as Twitter) @MSidgwick for more!