The 1990s were an important period in wrestling history. The early 1990s included the latter stages of the Hulkamania era, including icons like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Andre the Giant, and Ted DiBiase winding up their tenures as full time WWE wrestlers. Meanwhile, the era saw WCW develop its identity, arguably including the end of Ric Flair’s prime, Sting coming into his own as a main event worker, and guys like Big Van Vader, Rick Rude, and Steve Austin making headway in the heel ranks. While the mid-1990s are widely looked at as a down period in the business, the late 1990s more than compensated with the surge of the nWo in WCW, and the Attitude Era running wild in WWE. All of that’s besides the meteoric rise of ECW, not to mention successful independent promotions like USWA and Smoky Mountain Wrestling.
As entertaining as the 1990s were for millions of wrestling fans, they could be a harrowing time backstage. For every story of legendary personalities having a good time or accomplishing great things together, it seems there are at least one or two stories of things gone horribly wrong. We’re talking about moments that were frightening, sad, embarrassing, or downright tragic. We’re lucky to have as many survivors of this wild time in pro wrestling history as we do who can still tell the tales, and return to TV to feed our nostalgia needs. There are, however, those talents we’ll never see again, or at least never see quite the same. This article looks back at 15 backstage horror stories about your favorite 90s wrestlers.
15 Shawn Michaels Got Himself Beat Up In Syracuse
In 1995, Shawn Michaels was getting a big push. He’d already won his first Royal Rumble and gotten his first WrestleMania world title shot. In the aftermath, he turned face and was steadily gaining momentum on what looked like the road to his first world title win.
Behind the scenes, Michaels was living hard, drinking a lot and purportedly using other substances as well. According to most account, Michaels could be bit of a jerk in public, hitting on women and picking fights, but he had the benefit of guys like Kevin Nash hanging around to have his back if he got himself into trouble.
Nash wasn’t around in Syracuse, New York, though, when Michaels took the liberty of flirting with someone else’s girlfriend. The details vary, but most seem to agree that Michaels disrespected at least one guy in the bar, and only had scrawny Sean Waltman and inebriated Davey Boy Smith as allies. Whether it was just one guy or a cast of characters, whether they were from the army or the Marines, and whether the woman Michaels was hitting on got in a car with him or resisted his advances are all up to debate depending on who is telling the story, but the result was that Michaels got beaten up badly in the parking lot outside the bar. WWE would ultimately weave his real life injuries into a groundbreaking concussion storyline, out of which HBK emerged more popular than ever.
14 Yokozuna Soiled Himself In The Ring
Yokozuna was a truly massive wrestler, billed anywhere from 500 to 600 pounds, though some accounts put him at 700 by the late stages of his work with WWE. Especially when Yokozuna was a main event heel early in his run, one of his most frequent opponents was Bret Hart.
Hart has told the story in several shoot interviews of wrestling a match with the big man in India on a tour in which the food hadn’t agreed with a number of wrestlers. Hart was in position for a Banzai Drop—Yokozuna’s signature move for which he delivered a butt first sit down splash from the second rope. Looking up from the canvas Hart observed an unmistakable stain on Yokozuna’s tights from having an accident mid-match. Hart can laugh about it now, but, in the moment, was surely less than pleased at the prospect of having his opponent sit on him in that situation.
13 Sid Vicious Stabbed Arn Anderson
In 1993, a number of WCW wrestlers were at a bar when Sid Vicious started talking about how Ric Flair was overrated, overpaid, and needed to step aside for other guys to work on top. This opinion was, obviously, met with some dissent, and most strongly from Flair’s long time on-screen ally and real-life close friend Arn Anderson.
While the particulars of the story vary a bit, the consensus seems to be that a war of words at the hotel bar turned into a brawl upstairs in a hotel room and hallway, with weapons including a broken beer bottle and a hotel chair. Accounts vary as to who introduced scissors into the equation, but both men wound up bleeding, and Anderson purportedly had roughly twenty stab wounds from the incident.
Vicious had been lined up for a big push on screen and was rumored to be bound for the Starrcade main event against world champion Big Van Vader. Ironically, the man to replace him would be the subject of the original argument—none other than Ric Flair.
12 Harvey Wippleman And Joey Marella’s Tragic Car Ride
Harvey Wippleman was one of the last great top heel managers in WWE, backing guys including Sid Justice and Kamala. Joey Marella may have gone less noticed, but was the referee for a lot of big time matches in WWE and, notably, the legendary Gorilla Monsoon’s son. In a land of giants, it may not be so surprising that the two relatively small men struck up a friendship and wound up traveling the road together for a period of time.
In a recent visit to Chris Jericho’s podcast, Wippleman referenced that he always wanted to be the driver because he trusted himself to stay awake and drive safely. One fateful night, Marella convinced him that he was okay to drive and after promising to wake up Wippleman to takeover if he was getting drowsy, Wippleman acquiesced.
Tragically, Marella did wind up falling asleep and passed away in the accident. Wippleman thought he was a goner, too, at the time, but wound up suffering only relatively minor injuries. Though he hasn’t meaningfully appeared on screen for WWE in decades now, it’s interesting to note that he is still on the WWE payroll, doing odds and ends backstage.
11 The Ultimate Warrior Spoiled His Angle With Jerry Lawler
While a lot of fans have fond memories of The Ultimate Warrior as a loveable madman in the early 1990s, and it’s both heartwarming and tragic to look at his final days—mending fences, entering the WWE Hall of Fame, saluting the fans live on Raw, and unexpectedly passing away within a week—there was a time period in between. Wrestlers are less vocal about it now, but there was a period before Warrior returned to the WWE fold when bashing the guy came into vogue. The consensus seemed to be that he was a nightmare to work with in the mid-1990s. The stories go that he was unreliable, reckless, and had a tendency to make decisions that were in his own self-interest at the expense of the product.
Jerry Lawler communicated a story about Warrior in his book, It’s Good to Be the King… Sometimes! Lawler was supposed to bust a framed illustration of Warrior over his head in a stunt he’d used before in Memphis and knew wouldn’t hurt anyone, despite Warrior expressing reservations backstage. Lawler thought he’d finally convinced Warrior of the plan, only for Warrior to show up for their segment uncharacteristically wearing a baseball cap to protect himself from broken glass. Lawler was profoundly frustrated. The baseball cap telegraphed to fans exactly what would happen and removed some of the violent edge from the segment, besides which it suggested Warrior didn’t trust Lawler, and went against the plan they’d agreed to in the locker room.
10 Nailz Tried To Strangle Vince McMahon
WWE brought in Nailz as a spin off character for The Big Boss Man—an ex-convict to square off against the guy with the prison guard gimmick. While Nailz was a far from polished wrestler, he had a tremendous look, and from advance promotional work, he seemed poised to transition from the Boss Man feud to a program with The Undertaker.
While the details are sketchy, in late 1992 Nailz and Vince McMahon got into an argument related to money. From Bret Hart’s book, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Nailz screamed at McMahon for a prolonged period before things turned physical with Nailz physically choking the boss before other wrestlers came to the rescue. Both sides of the issues filed lawsuits in the aftermath and Nailz would never wrestle in WWE again, though he did have a brief stint with WCW as The Prisoner.
9 Haku Bit A Civilian In a Bar Fight
There are a lot of stories about Haku from the 1980s and 1990s, and while it’s unclear exactly what’s true versus exaggeration, once central, incontrovertible truth emerges: the guy was a badass.
While one of the most legendary Haku stories tells of him pulling out someone’s eye in a bar fight, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of confirmation that actually happened. Kevin Sullivan has given a more detailed account, though, in more than one shoot interview of a time when someone made the poor choice of referring to Haku by a racist epithet. Haku grabbed the guy and, according Sullivan, took a bite out of his back and spit his flesh on the floor. Haku told another story to James Guttman at We Want Insanity about biting off the nose of a guy who called wrestling fake at an airport, only adding to his aura as a dangerous man.
8 Bret Hart Had a Stalker
In his book, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Bret Hart told the story of a woman who went by the moniker “Nasty Girl.” She started out sending fan mail for The Hitman, which turned threatening when she felt he was ignoring her. From there, he claims he started seeing a woman who looked insane at various stops along WWE tours, culminating in an incident when she eyed him at an airport and he alerted security to her presence.
Hart went on to say that Nasty Girl was not only apprehended on that occasion, but attacked authorities with a hidden blade. She wound up going to prison, after which it seems that Hart was finally rid of the nuisance and potential threat.
7 Randy Savage Threatened Chris Kanyon
There are a lot of stories about Randy Savage being sensitive about his age. Most seem to agree he left WWE because they were phasing him out of his wrestler role into the part of a color commentator and ambassador, and that he took personal offense at Vince McMahon’s “Nacho Man” parodies after he left for WCW. Moreover, Savage was rumored to be anxious about his endorsement deal with Slim Jim because he felt they were looking to move away from him because of his age, too.
Chris Kanyon, playing his heel character, poked fun at Savage’s age in an appearance on Good Morning America, which Savage purportedly did not take well. At the urging of Diamond Dallas Page, who was close to both men at the time, Kanyon apologized profusely. According to Kanyon in his book, Wrestling Reality Savage accepted the apology, but explained he was only doing so because his one million dollar Slim Jim endorsment deal had worked out and otherwise Kanyon would have been in for “a million dollar ass beating.”
6 Vince McMahon And Hulk Hogan Personally Re-Wrote No Holds Barred
Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon struck up one of the most important wrestling partnerships of all time in the 1980s, with McMahon as the mastermind behind a national expansion for WWE, and Hogan his on screen champion. The relationship would carry over into the early 1990s, only to give way to a business rivalry between the two when Hogan defected to WCW for the better part of the decade.
While the two were still in alignment, though, they partnered on No Holds Barred, the first WWE-produced film. Not only did Hogan star in the film as Rip, but according to the How Did This Get Made podcast, Hogan also had significant creative input for the film. According to the podcast, McMahon and Hogan were dissatisfied with the script and proceeded to hole up in a hotel room to rewrite it. That the project left the hands of professional screen writers in favor of McMahon and Hogan may explain just how wild and incoherent the film wound up being. While wrestling fans (myself included) still love it for its nostalgia factor and absurdities, the film was universally panned and according to most reports WWE just barely broke even financially on the project.
5 Andre The Giant Turned Over A Car
It’s a story that’s been told many times, by many different wrestlers to the point that it’s hard to know who was an actual witness or if it actually happened. According to legend, though, there came a time when several guys made fun Andre the Giant or of the professional wrestling business, needling the Frenchman until he’d cleared his threshold.
In the end, Andre went after his antagonists and followed them outside. In a climax that both seems impossible, and yet fits with the incredible feats of size and strength associated with the Giant, , Andre not only overturned their car with his bare hands, but did so with four grown men seated inside. In doing so, he asserted that even if wrestling were predetermined, he was the real deal as a giant who wasn’t to be trifled with.
4 Sunny Did Sabu A Favor For Drugs
While she rarely wrestled and rarely worked as a face, Sunny nonetheless became one of the most popular figures in WWE in the mid-1990s. Early on, her sex appeal went unspoken but undeniable as she played a spandex-clad fitness guru. As WWE slid toward more mature programming, WWE leaned into her as a sex symbol, including posting cheesecake photos of her online. From there, the company played off her rumored promiscuity backstage by having her character bounce from tag team to tag team to manage with little loyalty.
When she went to ECW, Sunny seems to have reached a low. The Sandman claims that he walked in on her giving oral sex to Sabu in exchange for drugs. In shoot interviews, Sabu has claimed that story isn’t exactly true, but that he did show him her breasts in exchange for muscle relaxers.
3 WCW Management Tried To Rebrand Ric Flair
A variety of sources, including Ric Flair himself in his book To Be The Man, have suggested that when Jim Herd came into power in WCW, he fully intended to rebrand Flair as a new character named Spartacus. The idea was that WCW would “change with the times” by reinventing Flair in the image of a Roman gladiator.
The anecdote bespeaks Herd being completely tone deaf to the wrestling world and its fans. The argument could be made that he was also influenced by WWE programming, which was more inclined toward cartoonish gimmicks at the time. While WCW had its occasional flights of fancy in that era (Robocop, anyone?), they generally marketed their wrestlers as more straightforward professional athletes. Repackaging Flair, arguably the most credible professional wrestler of the day, in this silly image was particularly ridiculous.
2 Scott Hall Accidentally Killed A Man
Before he broke into the professional wrestling business, Scott Hall found himself in deep trouble. He was working as the bouncer for a strip club when someone came at him with a gun. A scuffle ensued. While the details are fuzzy, the result is clear—Hall wound up killing the other man with the gun. He was charged with second degree murder in 1983, but the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence; Hall claimed it was self defense.
The incident became a topic of conversation in both Hall’s ESPN E:60 interview and in the WWE produced documentary, Living on a Razor’s Edge in which he actually revisited the scene of the incident. Hall is known for his personal demons—in particular his struggles with substance abuse and this disturbing incident may well be at the core of his issues.
1 Davey Boy Smith’s Career Ending Miscommunication
In 1998, Davey Boy Smith worked as a WCW mid-carder, while The Ultimate Warrior was a hot new acquisition for the company. At the Fall Brawl PPV, WCW plotted a dramatic twist—The Ultimate Warrior would appear and disappear from the caged War Games match via a cloud of smoke and a trap door hidden in the ring.
The problem? Nobody told The British Bulldog about the trapdoor, and he reportedly wound up taking two back bumps directly onto it. According to a variety of accounts, Smith suffered a severe back injury as a result of the match and was never the same physically or mentally, based on the dependence he developed on painkilling drugs. Smith would go on to wrestle for WWE again, but was a shell of his former self.