Being a public figure can’t be easy, especially in the modern age where every little action or statement is scrutinized by hordes of social media users and pundits. People as high in the public profile as the President of United States are constantly under fire for the things they say in public and online, and sometimes the things these people say are rightfully lambasted as, well, plain idiotic.
The life of a professional wrestler is far from comfortable. Long hours on the road, sleepless nights, and the physically demanding nature of the job all make for a stressful work environment, so even the best of the best are not resistant to the urge to say something stupid.
Sometimes when we peel back the curtain and catch glimpses of the people behind the in-ring characters, we get looks at fascinating people with inspiring stories. But other times, what is revealed is an uglier side of human nature. From unfortunate tweets to less than respectful opinions of their fellow wrestlers—to pettiness, delusion, insensitivity, and outright racism and bigotry—the following 15 statements by wrestlers stand out as some of the worst.
15. Ric Flair Calls Mick Foley A Glorified Stuntman
Mick Foley writes at length in his book Have a Nice Day! about his time in World Championship Wrestling, and the forces that drove him away from the company in the early 90s. Chief among them was Ric Flair, who questioned Foley’s legitimacy as a performer.
“I don’t care how many thumbtacks Mick Foley has fallen on,” Flair wrote in his own autobiography, “How many ladders he’s fallen off of, how many continents he’s supposedly bled on, he’ll always be known as a glorified stuntman.”
Flair would go on to evoke the names of technical greats such as Verne Gagne, Dory Funk, Jr., Ricky Steamboat, and even Foley’s Attitude Era colleague Steve Austin. He concedes that Foley was a great attraction, but mainly because working for Vince McMahon made him famous.
Although the two have since come to amicable and professional terms, Flair’s discounting of a colleague’s entire career merely because it was different than his own has a certain smack of “old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn.”
14. Bret Hart Calls Seth Rollins An Unsafe Worker
In the wake of the knee injury that sidelined Seth Rollins for over six months, as many in the industry were wishing The Architect a speedy recovery, Bret Hart was sounding off on Booker T’s podcast about Seth Rollins being an unsafe worker.
Citing the accidental broken nose Rollins gave to John Cena during a match on Monday Night RAW, Hart went as far as to say he was surprised that the sloppy running knee didn’t kill Cena. He also listed the career-ending injury Sting sustained in a match against Rollins, which saw The Icon collapse in the ring after a turnbuckle power bomb. When Finn Bálor hurt his shoulder in his Summerslam match against Rollins, Hart responded simply saying “I hate to say I told you so.” In Hart’s view, Seth’s knee injury was just another example of his unsafe work.
Injuries are, of course, a part of the business. Hart seems ready to criticize Rollins, without acknowledging incidents such as when his brother Owen broke Steve Austin’s neck due to carelessness in the ring.
Rollins himself has taken the high road, saying he has all the respect in the world for Hart. One wonders if Hart is still bitter about the way his career abruptly ended due to a concussion.
13. Brock Lesnar: “I Don’t Like Gays”
In words that would make a PG-era McMahon family run for the hills, Brock Lesnar bluntly told an ESPN.com reporter in 2004, “I don’t like gays.” This remark derived from a fan telling Lesnar that her male friend thought he was cute while Lesnar was being followed for a profile by the sports website.
After dispensing of the fan with a slew of swears and homophobic slurs, he turned point blank to the reporter to almost challenge him, “Write that down in your little notebook. I don’t like gays.”
Of course, even back in 2004 it was unthinkable for a public figure like Lesnar to be so baldly hateful. He would eventually apologize for the remarks, but it is hard even now to forget his outburst. It’s worth noting that Lesnar was only 27 years old at the time—who doesn’t say constant stupid nonsense in their 20s?—and one hopes that his worldview has evolved with the times.
12. Bill DeMott Denies Harassment Allegations
Despite his also-ran status as a WCW and WWE wrestler, Bill DeMott got in on the ground floor as one of the earliest employees of the WWE Performance Center in Orlando at the inception of NXT, after a successful run as the head trainer on Tough Enough and in FCW. His tenure would be marked by controversy, with claims from NXT trainees that DeMott was a bully, physically threatened his students, and encouraged sexual harassment of the female wrestlers.
DeMott was accused of such behavior by mutliple wrestlers over the span of several years, but WWE claimed an investigation found no misconduct. DeMott maintained his own innocence steadfastly, despite resigning from the company in 2015. He attempted to look noble in doing so, saying he didn’t want to sully WWE’s name over the allegations, but one wonders why he would have resigned if he had nothing to hide.
It was inevitable that with renewed media attention the scrutiny of DeMott’s training would increase, but with his resignation he and the company were able to sweep the controversy away.
11. Ryback Pitches Himself As Credible Threat To Lesnar
Following his release from WWE, Ryback appeared on SiriusXM’s Busted Open, where he spoke at length about his pitched angle for a WrestleMania feud against Brock Lesnar. The angle involved Ryback leaving the company for six months to train at an MMA camp, attempting to make it look like he was training for a fight outside WWE, only to return and challenge Brock Lesnar to a match at ‘Mania. Apparently Ryback pitched this idea to Vince McMahon three years in a row.
It is difficult to imagine anything about this angle working. By the time of Ryback’s release, he had become a groan-inducing presence on WWE television, for his boring matches and incomprehensible promos. Even when he was more popular, his run was never anything dazzling, so to imagine that he had actually believed he was a big enough name to headline WrestleMania against one of WWE’s biggest draws is laughable.
They say it’s good to be a little cocky in the wrestling business, in order to show your worth to the decision makers, but there’s a difference between a healthy amount of confidence and outright stupidity.
10. Jessicka Havok’s Racist Tweets
Jessicka Havok had a mildly successful run in TNA’s Knockouts division in 2014 through 2015, where she briefly held the TNA Knockouts Championship for three days. At the end of her TNA tenure, she had reportedly been scouted by WWE for a tryout at the Performance Center.
But then Havok’s past came back to haunt her. Around this time, a series of tweets surfaced from Havok’s account that made copious use of a particular racial slur, references to fried chicken and watermelon, and even direct racist insults hurled at WWE talents Mark Henry and R-Truth. Needless to say, WWE never picked Havok up, and she now works in Ring of Honor.
Her story is a pointed reminder that nothing on the internet is truly secret; a series of hateful statements can easily come back years later to ruin the biggest opportunity a person has had.
9. Nash Claims Benoit And Guerrero Killed The Business
Nash once famously referred to the diminutive baby faces as “vanilla midgets,” a comment he later claimed was intended to work fans who cheered the heroic cruiserweights and supposed “smart marks” who liked them because they were technically sound performers.
However, there appeared to be at least some truth in Nash’s opinion. In 2012, years after Guerrero’s sudden death and the Benoit family murder-suicide, he claimed that Benoit and Guerrero’s championship reigns in 2004 killed the business of professional wrestling. This lofty opinion stems from Nash’s own disbelief that two people of such physical stature—Benoit at 5’11” and Guerrero at 5’8″—were larger than life enough to reach such great heights in the business.
Nash’s insanely antiquated belief extended to modern wrestlers like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, who the former WCW and WWE giant likened to Guerrero and Benoit in their relative short shortness. Comments like these cement the generational divide between various wrestlers, and blatantly ignores the contributions these and other small-statured wrestlers made to the industry.
8. Vince McMahon’s Criticisms Of The NFL
“Our brand of football,” was the oft-used tagline of Vince McMahon’s press conferences and hype speeches for the ill-fated XFL. In McMahon and league partner Dick Ebersol’s point of view, the NFL had become a soft sport played by alleged pansies, where the revision and tweaking of various league rules had rendered them the “No Fun League.”
So their response, the XFL, made bombastic and exciting commercials that aired on NBC for almost a full year before the league debuted, replete with scenes of football players rushing through war zones, gunfire, explosions, and a runaway wrecking ball. All of which made for the XFL’s inaugural game to hold record Saturday night ratings on NBC.
The only problem was that the game was terrible. The quality of play was nothing near what one could expect from the NFL. Coupled with copious injuries, broadcasting flubs, technical problems, and a lowbrow stigma associated with professional wrestling, the XFL flopped into infamy after its first and only season.
Although one can admire the pair’s tenacity in taking on the biggest dog in football, the XFL remains an embarrassing blemish in McMahon and Ebersol’s histories, and needless to say never lived up to the big talk that McMahon leveled against the NFL.
7. John Cena Buries His Elimination Chamber Opponents
A WWE network hit, Talking Smack has provided a great deal of post-show intrigue to Smackdown! Live fans since last summer’s brand split. In its short run thus far it has produced such memorable moments as the genesis of The Miz’s feud with Daniel Bryan. A major element of the show’s appeal is in its blurriness between work and shoot.
This blurred line can sometimes backfire, though. As recently as the go-home show for Elimination Chamber, when John Cena was on the show, the 16-time champion claimed that, of all his opponents in the main event the following Sunday, AJ Styles was the only one on his level.
Perhaps this was an attempt to draw some heat, but it felt alienating to the viewer, as John Cena is allegedly a babyface and was at the time holding a record-breaking championship. Coupled with the history of being accused of burying talent, this statement served only to remind us that, despite his fantastic run in the last few years, John Cena can often be unbearably arrogant.
6. Vader Criticizes Ospreay vs. Ricochet
In 2016, Will Ospreay and Ricochet had a highly-acclaimed match at NJPW’s Best of the Super Juniors Night 6. The two high-fliers employed copious amounts of what fans affectionately refer to as “flippy sh*t” and received a great deal of praise in the days following the event.
Sure enough, though, the praise was quickly followed by a frustrated old-timer claiming that young athletes are killing the business. This time the role was played by Vader, the former WCW Champion, who claimed that the match had no story or psychology, was simply a display of “blatant acrobatics.”
While one could make the argument that Vader’s criticisms had some merit—younger wrestlers do sometimes favor matches with many spots over classic psychology—the arrogance with which he voiced the opinion rubbed many wrestling fans the wrong way. Ospreay responded in kind the next night by performing a Vader bomb in his next Super Juniors match.
Eventually, the Twitter feud between Vader and Ospreay culminated with a match at Revolution Pro Uprising. The match was lackluster, and Ospreay later claimed that Vader refused to perform unless he won. For all his talk, Big Van Vader seemed incapable of backing it up.
5. CM Punk Talks Big Before His UFC Debut
After his notorious walkout from WWE in 2014, CM Punk announced that he was signing with Dana White’s UFC and began training for a debut at an indefinite date. This caused a great deal of intrigue, the way only the overlap between WWE and UFC can. Some criticized the signing, citing Punk’s lack of professional MMA experience, but nevertheless the hype for his eventual debut built for many months.
Being known for his deft smack talk as a wrestler, once it was announced that Punk would face Mickey Gall at UFC 203, the hype grew to a fever pitch. Unfortunately, the match failed to deliver, which should have surprised exactly no one. In just over two minutes, Gall tapped Punk out with a rear naked choke.
After close to two years of talk, hype, and bluster, Punk’s UFC debut fizzled out in as many minutes. As great as he was in the wrestling ring, CM Punk has proven to be the XFL of professional MMA.
4. Ultimate Warrior Praises Hurricane Katrina
The man behind the Ultimate Warrior face paint was a staunch right-wring conservative, which is no oddity in the wrestling world, nor an inherently bad thing. But throughout his life, the man’s politics became nearly synonymous with racism and homophobia.
Most egregiously, Warrior once hinted that Hurricane Katrina may have been a good thing, calling the city a cesspool of perversion and depravity. He criticized the people whose lives were upended by the storm, citing their poverty as if anyone ever chooses to be poor. He does not blatantly criticize the race of most of the storm’s victims, but when considered with his sordid past comments about race, it’s hard to believe that Warrior’s prejudices factored into his choice of words.
It makes it all the more problematic that WWE now has an annual Warrior Award, which extols its recipients as courageous and overcoming great adversity. If more fans knew of the hateful man behind the face paint, this would probably not feel like much of an honor.
3. Stephanie McMahon Compares 9/11 To Steroid Trial
On the first Smackdown broadcast following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, WWE held a tribute show only two days later on September 13th. Although the event was intended as a patriotic tribute to the people who perished at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and on Flight 93, it was nevertheless marked with controversy when Stephanie McMahon compared the terrorist attacks to the steroid trial Vince McMahon underwent in the early 90s.
“A few years ago, when tried to destroy my family,” Stephanie said, “they attacked my father’s reputation… They tried to rip us apart, but all they did was make us stronger.”
“And that’s exactly how America feels right now,” she continued.
Comparing a national tragedy to a family’s legal troubles is bad enough, but when one realizes that these remarks were recorded, and therefore edited and approved and surely had enough time for someone to come to their senses and not air it, it feels all the more horrendous. It is a perfect example of the McMahon family’s egomania that they found a way to make a tribute show to a national tragedy about themselves.
2. Hulk Hogan’s Racist Rant
There is nothing about this story that isn’t patently bizarre. When one reads the details, they sound made up, but knowing the absurdity of a life like Hulk Hogan’s, one knows every word is true. In a sex tape leaked by Gawker, Hulk Hogan is heard ranting about his daughter dating a black man, employing various racial slurs and remorse over the interracial relationship.
WWE terminated Hogan’s legends contract over these remarks, and he has not since been associated with the company in any way. He would go on to file, and win, an invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker Media. But being one of the most storied superstars in WWE’s history and an idol to countless viewers across generations, it’s a mark on his record that can never be erased.
Even if the Hulkster one day returns to WWE programming, it will be difficult to view him the same.
1. CM Punk Tells A Fan To Kill Himself
Sometimes wrestlers get heated and say things they shouldn’t say; after all, that’s what this whole article has been about. When the remark is made in the digital permanence of a high-profile Twitter account, it makes it all the more regretful, as in the case of CM Punk telling a fan to kill himself.
An outspoken liberal, Punk rattled off a series of tweets condemning a proposed amendment banning same-sex marriage in North Carolina. When a fan tweeted back his disagreement—saying “the thought of homo’s makes me sick”—Punk responded brutally by saying “kill yourself.”
Punk quickly apologized for the remark, saying that instead of killing himself he wants the fan to better himself, admitting that when he fired off the initial tweet that he was “worked up.” He repeated his support for same-sex marriage and that he detested the proposed amendment, including that he needed to think more before sending off angry tweets—a lesson that perhaps we can all learn from.