“It isn’t personal, it’s just business.” This term describes the cutthroat and underhanded actions that occur in the world of business, and wrestling is run just like any other business. Long serving employees can turn up one day and be given their pink slip (like WWE timekeeper Mark Yeaton who was let go on the eve of his 30th anniversary with the company); or employer and employee can get in to legal tussles over intellectual property, with this particular issue ongoing between the Hardys and Anthem/GFW (which will be covered). Promoters will do despicable things to keep talent under their thumb and to remind them just who’s boss. Sometimes it works, and sometimes the head honchos are left with egg on their face.
With this in mind let’s look at the top 10 times when promoters were just complete d****s to wrestlers.
10. Vince McMahon vs. WCW alumni
We start off with one man who’s committed the same d**k move to a slew of wrestlers that arrived from WCW to the WWF. Vince McMahon, in his warped state of mind, decided on punishing the talents for working in WCW in the first place – y’know rather than make a sizeable profit off their popularity. You would be mistaken to think that Vince’s immature behaviour started after WCW closed. In fact, you could trace this back to 1989, when NWA/WCW icon Dusty Rhodes signed with WWF. You would think they’d treat him a big deal but instead they went and put yellow polka dots on him.
When Chris Jericho arrived in 1999, he spent the first few months of his run lingering in the Hardcore division and lower mid-card feuds before his program with Chyna, despite glowing fan response. After WCW folded in 2001, the competitors who signed with WWF were made to look like fools during the Invasion, and there wasn’t much improvement after the angle.
Booker T came close to matching his WCW momentum in 2003, facing Triple H in a (possibly) racially uncomfortable angle and The Game won in a near squash at Wrestlemania XIX. Booker would sit right back down in the midcard and Smackdown main event scene (which in 2006 was one and the same) until his 2007 departure. DDP wouldn’t even last a full year in the company, being stiffed by The Undertaker, and went missing following the Alliance angle’s conclusion, returning for a hastily put together match against Christian at Wrestlemania XVIII.
Underwhelming stints from Sean O’Haire, Chuck Palumbo and Mark Jindrak (all three of which were touted as the future of WCW) were possibly expected but was disappointing nonetheless, and former ECW stars Tazz, Raven and Rhyno also felt the wrath of joining WWF after ‘helping the enemy’. Even in 2015, Sting made his long awaited WWE debut and lost to Triple H which was the final burial of WCW.
9. Jim Herd vs. Ric Flair
Jim Herd took control of WCW in mid 1991, not long after WCW split from the NWA and was looking to establish themselves as serious competitors to the almighty WWF. Herd was not the man to lead the company as he had never followed wrestling, and his previous management ventures were a local TV station and a Pizza Hut. Herd was less concerned with creating an alternative wrestling promotion and decided to give WCW more campy characters and brightly lit arenas like the WWF were doing (not a great idea when your arenas are less than half full). The only thing was that WCW fans were not interested in the glam style of the WWF.
Around the same time, WCW World Champion Ric Flair had been stripped of his booking powers which he most likely wasn’t happy about. However, his position and gimmick were untouchable. That was until Herd came up with the half-baked notion that the Nature Boy should ditch the robes and jewellery in favour of a shaved head and gladiator helmet, competing under the name of Spartacus. Flair reacted as you would expect and Herd fired him in July 1991 for being too difficult to work with.
It would be silly enough to fire the best wrestler in the company, it would be even sillier to fire your World Champion; but when the champion is in possession of the belt when you fire him there needs to be a new word invented for that ineptitude. At the time, WCW required the World Champion to pay a US$25,000 deposit, which would be returned with interest. Flair had the title and took it to the WWF, where he’d call himself the “Real World’s Champion” until WCW attempted to sue the Fed. WCW were forced to use a new horrible WCW Championship (you know the one that WWE games kept referring to) until Flair returned to WCW in 1993. By that time Herd had left, but Flair wouldn’t fare much better with the new guy at the top…
8. Eric Bischoff vs. Ric Flair
Fighting with the Four Horsemen against the villainous New World Order, Flair was still a hot commodity in 1998 despite Eric Bischoff thinking he was past his prime, and the Nature Boy was booked weakly by Bischoff. The WCW executive producer did not consider Flair “a draw” compared to Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Roddy Piper, which Flair was upset about.
Flair reportedly asked WCW management to miss an episode of Thunder to attend his son Reid’s wrestling tournament final, but other sources suggest that he did not ask for the time off. When the taping occurred in April 1998 and Flair was nowhere to be found, Bischoff was furious and suspended Flair for six months. He would then have the gall to let WCW sue Flair for “failing to meet commitments”
The lawsuit was soon dropped and Flair returned in September 1998 to reform the Four Horsemen and call out Bischoff on an episode of Nitro, calling him a “no good son-of-a-bitch!”, however Flair never forgot what Bischoff did to him and roughed him up backstage in 2003, after the men signed for WWE.
7.WWE vs. JBL’s victims
John Bradshaw Layfield is a big hoss, heavy drinking, loudly spoken, bullying redneck. But JBL is financially acute. He’s played the stock market well and has made some considerable cash from it. He was able to share this advice with his boss, and Vinny Mac also shared in the success. With that, Bradshaw is untouchable within the WWE, and he knows it. Layfield has been the locker room bully for years, with his antics getting on the nerves of some young upstarts.
He bullied his valet Amy Weber, bit part kayfabe TV executive Palmer Cannon, and most recently his ex-commentary partner on Smackdown Mauro Ranallo. And when they complained, they were basically told to leave if they couldn’t take it. They all did aside from Ranallo who was moved to NXT, away from Bradshaw. It apparently does not appear to be the job of WWE management to keep talent in line, and they normally resort to the veterans keeping the locker room in check. But when the veteran misbehaves, they’re more than happy to turn a blind eye to it rather than deal with potential locker room mutiny.
It’s an ongoing issue with the Mauro Ranallo incident only occurring at the start of 2017. Despite it being an era where the fans are clued in on the backstage matters in WWE, management are intentionally unaware of the backlash towards Layfield from the incident and continue to feature him on Smackdown whilst relegating Ranallo to stay at home until they found a spot for him in NXT.
6. WWF vs. Randy Savage
Randy Savage is arguably the greatest wrestler to step between the ropes and was a serious draw until his WCW departure in 2000. Some (including myself) argue that he shouldn’t have had to go to Ted Turner’s House of Cash in the first place, if Vince McMahon wasn’t so insistent on pushing the New Generation.
Savage left for WCW in 1994, his departure being addressed by McMahon on an episode of Raw:
“At this time, obviously conspicuous by his absence, is the “Macho Man” Randy Savage. And I’d like to announce, unfortunately, that Randy Savage has been unable to sign a contract with the World Wrestling Federation—not unable to, rather to come to terms with the World Wrestling Federation for a new contract.”
As the story goes; Vince McMahon was caught up in the steroid scandal of which Savage was implicated. As a result, the company focused on younger, leaner and smaller talent such as Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Lex Luger (WAIT!! One of these is not like the other). Oh yeah that’s right, the company didn’t care about small and lean guys when a vascular machine like Lex Luger or a giant like Diesel came along.
What the company definitely did focus on was younger talents coming to the fore, and older talents given permission to walk. Roddy Piper was inactive (save for a handful of matches) until his 1996 departure, Hulk Hogan was allowed to leave in 1993 for the sake of his acting career (then joined WCW a year later), but Randy Savage wanted to stay and compete with the new guys. Savage was 40 years old by the time the New Generation project took place, but that’s hardly “past it” in wrestling terms. So it was a bit bewildering when Macho Man took up the commentary seat (which was a mixed bag to say the least) in 1993 and 1994. Savage was intent on wrestling but McMahon was firm on his stance. He would wrestle just three more times following Wrestlemania IX: Survivor Series 1993 (as a replacement for Mr. Perfect against IRS, Diesel, Rick Martel and Adam Bomb), the Royal Rumble match in 1994, and a Falls Count Anywhere victory over Crush at Wrestlemania X.
Macho Man never released an autobiography so we don’t know any more details about this story, but Savage did take part in a candid interview in 2000 that discussed his WWF departure. He stated:
“They wanted me to do the commentary thing, which I will want to do some day… but I just wasn’t ready to take off my boots at that point. I’m glad I didn’t. It wasn’t anything but an attitude, or a direction, which the WWF was going, and they proved me to be 100% correct in where they were going, because they had a vision in where they were going. But at the same time, it didn’t work for me at that time. And I’m glad I made the move that I did, looking back, because I just wasn’t ready to do that. I have to do things because I want to, not because I have to.”
When Macho went to WCW, McMahon aired skits to poke fun at him, Hulk Hogan and Ted Turner depicting the two legends as over-the-hill geriatrics. Nice to know that Vinny Mac doesn’t hold a grudge.
5. WWE vs. CM Punk
CM Punk was not thought of much by Vince McMahon and John Laurinaitis. If not for Paul Heyman, Punk would probably still be in Ring of Honor or (oh god) WCPW. However, WWE took years to realise just what they had, and stop-start booking was annoying the Second City Saint. In 2011, Punk was given a live mic and said whatever he felt like. He criticised the running of the company including Vince and Stephanie McMahon, Triple H and John Laurinaitis.
Despite the company taking account of what he said, they made Punk lose clean to Triple H. He did hold the WWE Championship for 434 days, the longest reign since Hulk Hogan’s first. Despite this, John Cena’s matches would headline pay-per-views over Punk’s title defences. His title loss to The Rock irked him as well. WWE would prevent Punk from headlining Wrestlemania, and reportedly received less money at Wrestlemania 29 than The Rock, John Cena and Brock Lesnar.
Punk walked out of the company in January 2014, after having health issues and working a harsh schedule. A staph infection led to a potential MRSA scare, which was misdiagnosed as a fat buildup by WWE doctors. A tell-all podcast with his friend Colt Cabana in late 2014 revealed that he was fired on his wedding day (which Vince McMahon publicly apologised for) and that he was hurt by Ryback during their 2012 and 2013 matches.
Not content with firing him on his wedding day; on an episode of Raw that took place in Chicago in 2016, Stephanie McMahon made reference to Punk’s humbling UFC loss. When the fans chanted “CM Punk!” at the boss’ daughter, she responded “and if you could keep that up for two minutes and fifteen seconds, you’d last a second more than Punk did”. Savage. As savage as Randy.
4. WWE vs. Paul Heyman
So you may think we’re cheating here as Paul Heyman isn’t a wrestler, but technically he’s had two PPV matches in WWE as an in-ring competitor – that’s as many as Sting! So for the purposes of this list, he is a wrestler.
In 2002 WWE’s Brand Extension occurred and Paul Heyman was given the task of being the head honcho of Smackdown. Heyman’s idea was to take the more athletic stars and merge them in with the up-and-comers. The Smackdown Six (Eddie and Chavo Guerrero, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio and Edge) were the crown jewels, with the athletes taking on each other and the fledgling superstars. Combining the SD6 with Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Undertaker and Big Show led to Smackdown becoming the must-see show in 2002 to early 2003. Heyman was dismissed in February 2003 for failing to comply with Vince’s demands. Heyman would have his own writing style which Vince didn’t approve of. Stephanie McMahon was sent in to watch over Paul E. Dangerously to make sure he did what he was told, and he couldn’t work with the extra discipline. If you watch his documentary “Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman”, Stephanie spoke of Heyman as a rebellious brat who needed to learn his place as her underling.
Heyman then moved on to becoming the head of developmental in 2005, nurturing guys such as MVP, Ken Kennedy and most importantly CM Punk. But it was in the latter half of 2006 that Heyman finally had enough. Heyman was placed as head writer of the rebooted ECW, to be portrayed in the WWE as a third brand alongside Raw and Smackdown. A creative meeting was held with Heyman, Vince and executive producer Kevin Dunn to discuss how the brand should be run. Heyman had taken the popularity of Ring of Honor and UFC in to account, and saw how popular the semi-underground style of production was. With new talent like CM Punk merging with ECW Originals (RVD, Sabu and Tommy Dreamer), to form a credible roster. In layman’s terms, WWE-ECW in Heyman’s mind was to be very similar to NXT today. McMahon and Dunn disagreed and wanted a third brand just like Raw and Smackdown. They got their way and Heyman had to write a C-show rather than a unique alternative to Raw and Smackdown. The only difference was that ECW had different camera angles and no WWE markings on the graphics and ring.
ECW mulled along with an underwhelming roster with Sabu, RVD and CM Punk being the only ones that got a reaction. Then came the death knell for Heyman – December to Dismember. A show that had only two matches announced (which is commonplace for WWE PPV’s now but in 2006 that was a major no-no), and received the lowest PPV buyrate in company history. The undercard (aside from The Hardys vs. MNM) was more like a Heat pre-show (remember those?) than a pay-per-view. McMahon interference was turned up to 11, and made a decision to involve a popular Sabu in a backstage attack that wrote him out of the Elimination Chamber main event in favour of a buzzkilling Hardcore Holly. Why? To focus more fan support to Bobby Lashley. In the Chamber match, RVD and CM Punk were the first two eliminated to let Lashley overcome the odds and win. Fans sh*t all over the ending and, rather than admit to making a mistake, Vince put the blame of the show’s negativity solely on Paul Heyman, and the Father of Extreme walked out, not to return for another five years.
Side note: For more information on Paul Heyman, I suggest watching “Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman” on the WWE Network
3. TNA vs. Multiple Knockouts
TNA’s actions could probably fill this entire list if the WWE had a HR department. In 2007, TNA organised a women’s division and hired some very talented performers over the years such as Gail Kim, ODB, Roxxi, Taylor Wilde, Awesome Kong, The Beautiful People and Daffney. The women put the new division to the forefront with quality matches, with Kim and Kong main eventing Impact in 2008.
But while the Knockout division was becoming the new highlight of TNA, their paycheck didn’t reflect that, for most of them at least. Of course, ex-WWE talents like Mickie James, non wrestler Christy Hemme and the boss’ wife Karen Jarrett were on six figure sums. Originals like Roxxi and Angelina Love were being paid per appearance, reportedly in the region of $300-600. Keep in mind that one Impact taping day counts as an appearance, and that’s a borderline disgrace.
Gail Kim didn’t sign a new contract after not receiving a better deal, Taylor Wilde was spotted working at a Sunglass Hut while she was the Knockouts Champion, and reports surfaced of ODB and Velvet Sky working in bars. TNA is also notorious for refusing to pay health insurance for their roster, so when a very green wrestler called Rosie Lottalove faced Daffney and gave her a stinger and severe concussion, TNA refused to pay her medical costs and she took them to court for workers comp. They settled out of court and Rosie Lottalove would go on to improve drastically – competing in the Mae Young Classic as Sage Beckett. All’s well that ends well!
Awesome Kong was fired in 2010 after beating up Bubba “The Love” Sponge as he made disparaging comments about the Haiti earthquake, which Kong was raising money for. In addition, she was still on a very low, pay-per-appearance salary. Multiple wrestlers were asked to return over the years, but have rejected their offers, and when you see that the original Knockouts were only offered a maximum salary of US$38,000 per year, not including accommodation, travel and insurance, there’s no wondering why.
2. Anthem/Impact Wrestling vs. The Hardys
Matt Hardy re-joined TNA in 2014, joining his brother Jeff to do the classic Hardy Boyz schtick. Jeff got injured and Matt went solo. It was a success as he won the TNA World Heavyweight Championship twice. At the time, TNA were in the financial doldrums and had been cancelled by two networks in as many years come 2016. In the beginning of the year, Matt Hardy had just turned heel and was performing his Big Money Matt gimmick from Ring of Honor in 2012-13 (look it up), and was fighting against his brother Jeff.
They requested total control of their characters and storylines from management who were desperate to keep the brothers in the company. In May 2016, they made a campy, off-the-wall, indescribable creation. In fact I’m not going to describe it, just watch it and understand that you will NEVER be as imaginative as that! The Hardys brought attention to TNA for the first time in years and it was an unexpected success.
Anthem bought Impact Wrestling in 2017, and asked for the roster to sign exclusive contracts. Jeff would get a lucrative contract, but Matt was offered a less generous amount. The Hardys were unwilling to agree and negotiations got heated. The Hardys walked out and joined WWE, making their return at Wrestlemania 33. As it was their creation, the Hardys requested to take their “Broken” universe to WWE. However, Anthem set out the terms. They wanted 50% of relevant revenue and all rights to Jeff’s music, which the brothers were disgusted at. The Hardys decided to make the public aware of TNA’s actions during the Broken era. Matt and his wife Reby have been particularly vocal. This included: no child labour agreement set in place for Maxel, Reby’s father (Señor Benjamin) not being paid, and TNA not paying for any of the vignettes.
Anthem believe there is money to be made off the Broken gimmick, such as action figures and DVDs, but it’s very unlikely that the Hardys will sign off on any merchandise. The case is still ongoing at the time of writing,
1. The Screwjobs
It was always going to be the screwjobs. However, rather than take up two spots for the original and Montréal I’ll keep the two to one entry; as they’ve both ended with similar outcomes.
The Fabulous Moolah was an icon who held the WWF/NWA Women’s Championship for eighteen years. Wendi Richter was trained by the Fabulous Moolah and signed with the WWF in 1983. She was incredibly popular and struck up a friendship with legendary manager “Captain” Lou Albano, and 80’s mega-star Cyndi Lauper. With the advent of the Rock-n-Wrestling Connection, Lauper and Richter were super popular. With Richter becoming a popular draw in the Golden Age of WWF, she justly asked for a raise from Vince McMahon. The two parties couldn’t come to terms and their relationship soured.
As WWF Women’s Champion, Richter was going to leave once her contract expired and McMahon wanted his title back. He booked Richter in a match against a masked opponent known simply as “Spider Lady”. The masked competitor pinned Richter who kicked out at 1, but was purposefully ignored by the referee who counted to 3. Richter unmasked the new champion who turned out to be Moolah! It took Richter a few moments to realise what had happened but when the referee didn’t count her pin attempt it became crystal clear. Richter left the building in her ring gear, not to be seen in WWE until 2009 when the company inducted her in to the Hall of Fame as an olive branch. This screwjob would not be the last however, as the WWE got themselves in to a similar situation twelve years later…
In 1997, Bret Hart agreed a deal with WCW to join the company. He wanted to stay with WWF but they couldn’t afford to keep him at the time. His last match would be to defend the WWF Championship at Survivor Series against Shawn Michaels in Montréal. Unwilling to lose to his real-life nemesis in his home country, Hart suggested that he hand over the title the next night on Raw and McMahon verbally agreed. The night before Survivor Series, McMahon, Pat Patterson and Shawn Michaels planned out a device to rid the Hitman of the belt at the event. McMahon had feared Hart would be convinced to take the title to WCW like Madusa did in 1995.
At Survivor Series, Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart would face off. McMahon and Sgt. Slaughter were around ringside. Michaels put Hart in the Hitman’s signature, the Sharpshooter. Michaels put the hold on tight, constricting Hart while referee Earl Hebner called the match’s end, and McMahon telling timekeeper Mark Yeaton to ring the bell. Michaels scurried off with the WWF Championship whilst Hart stood enraged, having spat in McMahon’s face. Hart went to WCW having lost his passion for the business, and despite being inducted in to the 2006 Hall of Fame, wouldn’t make an in-ring appearance until 2010. I’d recommend watching “Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows”. It’s a great candid documentary which films Hart from this time period, including the Montréal Screwjob.
So that’s the top 10 incidents where promoters were complete d***s to wrestlers. If you think I should’ve included one incident over another, let me know in the comments!