Even a casual fan of pro wrestling knows that the business is rife with shady doings and shady characters. It always has been and it still is today. Though we may love to watch RAW, WrestleMania, or the latest NXT Takeover, the fact of the matter is there are people and practices involved in “sports entertainment” that would not be seen in any other business. Some of this just comes with the territory. In a business where guys are a falling down for a living and living out of a suitcase five days a week, use of painkillers is naturally going to be much higher than in the general population. And though the WWE now has a (rather opaque) wellness program, it’s hard to look at some of the physiques on our screen and not believe that anabolic steroids may have played a role in their development.
Some of the WWE’s scandals have been so big that they broke through to popular culture and the mainstream media. Things like Hulk Hogan’s racist remarks that leaked a couple of years ago, or the then-WWE champion Rob Van Dam being arrested for possession of narcotics or the Christ Benoit tragedy. But not all secrets have had seen so much daylight. We don’t want to condone the shady dealings of pro wrestling, but we still love to watch (and hate-watch) pro wrestling, so the least we should do is arm ourselves with the knowledge of the instances when the WWE has been less than moral.
15 Warrior's Offensive Comments About The Late Bobby Heenan
We begin with a subject that has been in the news recently. October is breast cancer awareness month and every October the WWE partners with the controversial Susan G. Komen Foundation to, in theory, help fund breast cancer research. This year, however, the WWE has trotted out Dana Warrior, the widow of Warrior (nee Jim Hellwig) to declare all the breast cancer survivors to be warriors. Now, Dana Warrior might well be a fantastic person, but her late husband was not.
Warrior publicly said numerous homophobic and ablest statements and never apologized for any of them. But what’s particularly appalling are Warrior’s comments about the legendary Bobby Heenan, himself a sufferer of cancer who recently died. In 2005, Warrior said of Heenan,
“You are dying, dis-eased [sic] on the inside, ... Imagine what it will be like, lying there taking in your last breaths, knowing you whored yourself out your whole life, and had to, in your final years, be faced with emptying your own personal sh–– bag affirming to you the true value of what you achieved in your life.”
A man who says that probably shouldn’t have any award or charity named after him, let alone have his name trotted out in the name of cancer survivors.
14 Vince McMahon Covering Up Jimmy Snuka/Nancy Argentino Incident
At this point, most everybody knows about ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka’s dark secret. In 1983, Snuka’s girlfriend Nancy Argentino passed away under suspicious circumstances. She had received several blows that a medical examiner determined were consistent with domestic abuse. Snuka was investigated at the time but no charges were pressed until just a few years ago. However, there was a civil suit brought against Snuka by Argentino’s family. Snuka was found responsible for her death in that trial and ordered to pay reparations, which he never did.
The story was brought up again this year when Snuka was found to be unfit to stand trial due to his poor health, and he passed away in January. Upon his passing, the WWE unreservedly celebrated him, an act that caused many people disgust.
Just what happened in 1983 will never be fully known, but one story involves Vince McMahon pressuring local police to ease up on Snuka and drop the investigation. Some have even claimed to see Vince coming to police with a briefcase full of, well, you can probably guess. It may sound far fetched, but given everything else Vince McMahon has done in his life, you can’t say he’d definitely be above it.
13 Ring Announcer/Ringboy Scandal
The early ‘90s were a real rough time for the WWE. Apart from business plummeting from its 1980s height, they were plagued by scandals. One was the big steroid trial (more on that later) but contemporaneous with this, was an even more deplorable scandal. Several WWE employees were accused of harassment and abuse, particularly of minors. Former pro wrestler and backstage employee Terry Garvin was accused, most notably by Barry Orton (Randy’s uncle) of offering career advancement to young men in exchange for certain 'favors'.
Perhaps worse was the alleged behavior of former ring announcer and ring crew supervisor Mel Phillips. Phillips was accused of preying upon young boys (many of the ring crew were teenage boys) with one boy allegedly being as young as 10. However, none of these accusations came to light until 1992, when both Phillips and Garvin resigned.
It should also be noted that Pat Patterson was accused of similar misconduct, but these claims have been discredited and are believed to have been motivated by homophobia.
12 Chaotic Backstage Issues At WrestleMania XIX
Behind the scenes, WrestleMania XIX was insane. Everybody remembers the end of the show, with a dazed Brock Lesnar struggling to stand up straight after winning the WWE title. Lesnar had just smashed his head into Kurt Angle’s ribs and the ring mat after a disastrous attempt at a shooting star press. Lesnar had done the move before in Ohio Valley Wrestling, but had since put on more weight. Yet John Laurinaitis really wanted Lesnar to try it and convinced Vince it was a good idea. It wasn’t.What also wasn’t a good idea was Kurt Angle wrestling that match at all. Angle was in dire need of neck surgery and had something to the effect of only 30% strength in his left arm. They nearly did the title switch on SmackDown! Weeks before but Angle, understandably, really wanted to work the ‘Mania main event. After the match, while backstage staff were attending to the concussed Lesnar, Angle’s then-wife Karen was screaming to get help for Kurt who went into convulsions as the adrenaline wore off.
Oh, ‘Mania XIX was also Steve Austin’s last ever match and he nearly died the day before and was hospitalized for heart problems brought on by an overdose of caffeine and ephedra. Just insane.
11 Jake the Snake and Damien
Jake the Snake’s many substance abuse, mental, and emotional problems are well documented. So take a moment to think about what life on the road was like for Jake and his Burmese python, Damien. You think he was taking excellent care of that snake when he couldn’t even take care of himself? Of course not. Poor Damien was the prop in any number of pranks, was thrown around, stepped on, and generally mistreated.
Roberts, real name Aurelian Smith Jr., was charged in 2004 for causing unnecessary suffering after Damien essentially starved to death. As kids we may have all loved to see Jake storm the ring and throw Damien on a terrified Andre the Giant, but that poor snake suffered a lot. As did Jake, but at least Jake had some say in his life; that python had no choice.
10 The True Attendance at WrestleMania III
WrestleMania III at the SilverDome in Pontiac Michigan shattered attendance records. A massive 93173 people crammed into the massive arena to watch Hulk vs Andre and Savage vs Steamboat. Except… no they didn’t. It was a lie. The actual number was around 78,000. How do we know this? Well, the building settlement (seen by Dave Meltzer among others) provided by the official promoter of the event, Zane Breslov, gives the 78,000 number. Breslov has no reason to lie and if anything would want to exaggerate the number. The 93000+ number was crafted in order to beat the attendance number at an event hosted by Pope John Paul II in the SilverDome, which itself might have been fabricated.
The truth is that WWE routinely exaggerates their attendance records. They have even stated that any number given on air is meant for entertainment purposes. In actuality, WWE’s record attendance was the 80,000+ that came to Wembley for SummerSlam ’92. That was until WrestleMania 32 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas that saw around 100,000 people in attendance. That number, too, was exaggerated, but only by a few thousand.
9 Andre the Giant and Bad News Brown
Perhaps no former WWE wrestler is more celebrated than Andre the Giant. The stories of Andre are legendary and the only thing larger than his figure is his legacy. But Andre was far from perfect. For one, all the truly insane stories of his herculean tolerance of alcohol seem to indicate pretty clearly that he had a drinking problem. But if so, that was his cross to bear, not a scandal. However, his relationship with Bad News Brown is more problematic.
One time on a tour, Andre and Brown got into a disagreement. Over the course of their dispute, Andre referred to Brown (who is black) as a, “N-—-r”. Brown, understandably, took great exception to this and got off the tour bus and challenged Andre to a fight. For most men, challenging Andre to a fight would rank somewhere between stupid and suicidal. But Brown was a judo champion and Andre wanted none of it. Andre apologized for his remark and admitted he was wrong.
8 Just How Much Of A Jerk Was Young Randy Orton?
Nowadays when Randy Orton makes the news for something he’s done outside the ring, it’s for something like a viral clip showing him playfully RKO-ing (out of nowhere) his son into a pool. He appears to be a devoted father and husband and the most controversy he generates stems from his preference for headlocks over dives. But this was not always so. Young Randy Orton could often be a terror. Apart from going AWOL from the Marines before joining the WWE (an act that prohibited him from staring in one of the Marine franchise movies) Orton’s behavior around women was very troubling. Orton was known to accost, tease, and harass several female wrestlers and staff in the WWE. Most infamous was his bullying of Rochelle Loewen, which included an infamous prank involving the vandalism of Loewen’s purse. However, Loewen has denied the popular version of the story that involves feces. Still bad, though.
7 The Secrets of the Brawl for All
The Brawl for All is arguably the worst idea the WWE ever had. Designed as a vehicle to get ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams over, they created a legitimate fighting contest, mixing boxing and wrestling (similar to MMA). These were real fights involving guys who mostly did not know how to fight and the audience could tell; they were awful. Many guys got injured and had to bow out of the tournament. But not Dan Severn. Severn is believed to have been asked or pressured to withdraw from the tournament after his first round win. Severn, an actual MMA fighter, was a high level amateur wrestler. His MMA fights are notorious for being horribly boring and so was his Brawl for All fight.
With Severn out of the way, the WWE thought they were on their way to exciting fights and a Dr. Death victory. Neither happened. Williams “tore (his) a**” and got knocked out by eventual winner Bart Gunn. Oh, and it should also be noted that none of these fights were sanctioned by a commission and they even had a one-eyed man, Pierre Carl Oullett, fight Steve Williams!
6 Why Vince McMahon Lost Respect For John Morrison
Many people know about John Morrison and Melina (and Batista). Morrison, real name John Hennigan, was in a real life romantic relationship with his on-screen manager, Melina Perez. However, during this time, Melina had an affair with Dave Bautista. Batista outright admits to this in his autobiography. This obviously caused tension when Morrison found out. However, Morrison, behaving like a mature adult, did not try to fight Batista and he and Melina continued dating for a while.
What many don’t know is that this act of civility and maturity on Morrison’s part disgusted Vince McMahon. In Vince’s world, you’re supposed to fight a dude who sleeps with your woman, I guess. Even if that dude is much larger and has more sway in the company for which you both work. This could be one of the reasons that Vince never gave Morrison a big push.
5 Vader's Legal Troubles in Kuwait
As wrestling fans, we’ve all bristled at somebody calling our preferred entertainment “fake”. It’s silly and demeaning to use that word as it holds wrestling to a standard to which no other movie, book, or TV show is held. When somebody asks us if its fake or if we know it’s fake we might roll our eyes or scoff, but hopefully we won’t do what Vader did on a Kuwaiti talk show in 1997. Vader was on the show with The Undertaker (looking every bit like the on-screen biker he would become in three years) to promote the WWE’s upcoming shows there.
Vader, real name Leon White, was told to act outraged when the host asked him if the WWE was “fake”. The only problem was that nobody told the host! Vader flipped over a table and grabbed the host by the lapel of his shirt. The host was clearly annoyed and uncomfortable. Vader was forced to apologize and was fined a whopping $164.
4 HBK’s Breakdown At WrestleMania X-Seven
In the 1990s, Shawn Michaels was an amazing wrestler and a pretty crummy person. Half of this changed in January 1998 when he took a bump off a casket in a match against the Undertaker and messed up his back. This forced Michaels into an early retirement after WrestleMania that year and also contributed to substance abuse problems Michaels would have.
By 2001, the WWE, and especially Michaels’s good friend Triple H, were hoping Michaels’s back had healed and he could work a match with Hunter at what would turn out to be perhaps the greatest WrestleMania ever. But that would not be. While Michaels’s back might have been healed enough, as a person, he was not. He was “in no condition to perform” and Hunter had to instead work The Undertaker in what turned out to be a great match. HBK saw this as Triple H betraying him and the two weren't on speaking terms for a while. Michaels though, would eventually make amends with Hunter, as he learned he was the one at fault.
Another great match occurred at SummerSlam the next year, as Michaels finally got his life together, cleaned up his act, and came back to face Hunter. Now Michaels was a great wrestler and a good person.
3 The WWE and Superstar Billy Graham
During the previously mentioned scandals of the early ‘90s one hypercritical voice of the WWE and Vince McMahon was ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham. Graham had a troubled relationship with the WWE ever since Vince McMahon Sr. took the World Title off Graham and gave it to Bob Backlund despite Graham thriving as champion. This animosity grew and grew until the early ‘90’ when we saw Graham publicly turn against his former protégé Hulk Hogan and accuse Hogan of using steroids. Graham knew Hogan used steroids because (apart from it being fairly obvious) Graham taught Hogan how to use them. Indeed, Graham was one of the pioneers of steroid use in pro wrestling, so many saw this mea culpa as somewhat hypocritical.
But it didn’t end there. Graham also went on an infamous episode of The Phil Donahue Show in 1992 and claimed to have seen acts that were alleged in the Mel Phillips/Terry Garvin scandal. Graham later admitted to fabricating these accusations and apologized, saying it was a dark time for him. He also sued the WWE, saying they pressured him into taking steroids, but lost the case as it had been established that he had been using steroids for years before he joined the WWE.
2 Independent Contractors
Did you know that all your favorite wrestlers in the WWE are not actually WWE employees? It’s true. Talent are technically signed as “independent contractors”. This, despite the fact that they cannot wrestle for other promotions and their outside work has to be approved by WWE. The WWE does business like this because this way they are not obligated to provide health insurance or cover transportation or hotel costs for the wrestlers. All the wrestlers have to look after these concerns themselves. It’s a real shady business practice and it’s hard to imagine it standing up to scrutiny were it ever brought before a judge. One can’t help but wonder if the Federal Administrator of the Small Business Administration Linda McMahon should maybe look into this… oh wait…
1 George Zahorian's Role In The Trial of Vince's Life
Linda McMahon would likely not be the Administrator of the Small Business Administration had she not received a tip nearly two decades ago not to hire Dr. George Zahorian. Zahorian was the Pennsylvania doctor who worked with the WWE in the 1980s as a ringside physician. When pro wrestling de-regulated in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s –that is, admitted it was not a legitimate combat sport and therefore didn’t require a commission—they had to then hire their own doctors. They were going to hire Zahorian until Linda got a tip that Zahorian was under federal investigation for distribution of steroids, among other things.
Vince, an admitted steroid user himself and the boss of dozens of employees who also used them, almost certainly knew this was Zahorian’s game. But by not hiring Zahorian themselves, the McMahons could claim ignorance. Zahorian pleaded guilty to 15 charges in 1991 and agreed to testify against Vince. The trial finally took place in 1994 and Vince, who just happened to have to wear a neck collar during the trial, managed to narrowly escape a guilty verdict.