Professional wrestling is a strange business, built on a foundation of kayfabe. Fans by and large understand that while so much of the athleticism and physicality of wrestling is real, it’s all used to serve the master of telling a story that itself is not true. Since the late 90s, the Internet has blown the lid off of pro wrestling in so many ways, taking it from an insider business that fans could only speculate and discuss rumors about. Historically, there were dirt sheets, but only the most devout, invested fans would follow them. Now, wrestling is a business that fans have a lot of insider information on right at their fingertips from any number of free websites. A proliferation of books, documentaries, and podcasts have only broadened the knowledge base for fans with no actual experience in the wrestling business.
Oftentimes, what we learn about on screen heroes is interesting or even inspirational. However, there are those times when what we learn has far bleaker implications. There are wrestlers who intentionally hurt one another, or who had dark or unethical histories attached to them, even while we were cheering them on their way to the ring. This article looks at 15 particularly troubling or unexpected confessions that have come out from former pro wrestlers. Some of them undermine our image of the character. Some of them might affect how we look at the real life man or woman at hand. Regardless, these confessions go beyond the normal scope of the wrestling business into the murkier territory of people’s personal lives.
15. Jerry Lawler Meant To Break Paul Heyman’s Jaw
WWE fans may know Jerry Lawler best as a color commentator and part time wrestler, but for over two decades before that, Lawler was a both a full time wrestling star and a booker and co-owner of his own territory based in Memphis. Quite a few stars passed through Memphis, often on their way up or down the ladder to the top.
One guy to pass through was Paul Heyman, who’d go on to be a successful manager in WCW and WWE, not to mention the driving force behind the original ECW. According to Lawler, during Heyman’s residency in Memphis, he was booked for a Scaffold Match only to try to back out after the match was already heavily promoted, citing that he was afraid of heights. In a confrontation that was ostensibly worked to entertain the fans, Lawler punched Heyman and “accidentally” broke his jaw.
14. Kurt Angle Took 65 Vicodin A Day
In the mid-2000s, Kurt Angle left WWE. The generally agreed upon reason was that WWE insisted he take time off to heel from his assortment of serious injuries and suspicions he was abusing substances. Angle refused to take time away and wound up leaving the company instead so he could continue to ply his trade in TNA.
Angle was great in WWE and arguably got even better as an all around performer in TNA, but has more recently come clean about what life was really like for him behind the scenes. On Jim Ross’s podcast, Angle discussed popping dozens of Vicodin a day by manipulating pharmacies to get his hands on as many pills as he could all the time. Fortunately, Angle was able to clean up his act over time and was finally welcomed back into the WWE family this past spring.
13. Bob Holly Feels Responsible For The Benoit Family Tragedy
In 2007, Chris Benoit tragically murdered his wife and son before killing himself. It may have been the most harrowing real life story in wrestling history. Seven years after it happened, Bob Holly appeared on Jim Ross’s podcast and, to the surprise of listeners, revealed that he felt a degree of responsibility for what Benoit had done.
Holly claimed that Benoit had been insistent in inviting Holly to visit him and his family at their home. Holly suggested he already felt bad about not doing so when he was in the area, but that his guilt went through the roof after the tragedy. While it’s not entirely logical, Holly had the sense that maybe he could have made a difference if he had given Benoit some more of his time, or spent time with the family. It was clear from what Holly said that he carried the guilt with him to that day.
12. Bret Hart Foresaw Kerry Von Erich’s Suicide
In his book, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Bret Hart referenced talking to Kerry Von Erich back stage in WWE, and that the Texas Tornado talked about how he wanted to be reunited with his brothers. Hart indicates that he got an eerie feeling that Von Erich was thinking about suicide, and tried to talk him down from it. Von Erich paid lip service to Hart’s advice and put on a happy face.
Unfortunately, Von Erich would ultimately kill himself with a self inflicted gun shot wound on his father’s property. Kerry’s passing was the last in a series of premature deaths in his generation of the legendary wrestling family that left Kevin the last Von Erich boy left standing.
11. Hulk Hogan Ruined Jesse Ventura’s WWE Career
During his time with WWE, Jesse Ventura began pushing the idea among his colleagues of developing a wrestlers’ union. The idea was that if they bargained collectively, they could work toward fairer pay and for benefits and other protections for the boys. According to Ventura, the idea was getting momentum, until it reached Hogan.
Ventura has indicated that Hogan was a lynchpin in the plan—that on the 1980s WWE landscape, he was the name who could singlehandedly force WWE to listen to organized labor in its roster, and the one guy who could sink the idea. Ventura always suspected Hogan had gone running to Vince McMahon to not only not support the plan, but also ensure Ventura got marginalized and silenced. When Ventura and WWE went to court for unrelated matters, Ventura finally got to verify his theory, as he got his attorney to ask McMahon about it while he was under oath, and McMahon confirmed Hogan had ratted out Ventura.
10. Sting And The Ultimate Warrior Stole From Grocery Stores
Sting and The Ultimate Warrior are best remembered as big time faces in the wrestling world. Their characters stood up for what was right, and each arrived as real life good guys later in life, after Sting was born again and Warrior finally made peace with WWE and came home shortly before his death.
It turns out neither man was squeaky clean in the early going of their pursuits of bodybuilding and professional wrestling when they were tag team partners and real life close friends. In a visit to the Legends with JBL show for the WWE Network, Sting relayed that the two of them would go to grocery stores when they were young and poor and needed to pack in protein. According to The Stinger, they’d each load a cooked chicken into their carts and walk around the store, ostensibly shopping, but mostly eating the chicken they’d never paid for as they walked the aisles, and then hiding the empty containers elsewhere in the store. While it is a funny story now, the unethical nature of it nonetheless stands out.
9. Sunny Slept Around While Dating The Late Chris Candido
Chris Candido was a super talented wrestler who thrived in smaller companies before getting his shot in WWE. While his real life girlfriend and kayfabe manager Sunny always caught the eye of fans for her unmistakable sex appeal, but when the duo got to WWE, the scales tipped. Despite never wrestling a match, Sunny began to overshadow her partner.
Accounts vary as to precisely when and precisely with whom Sunny started sleeping around with wrestlers but a variety of sources, including Sunny herself, have spoken up about it. Sunny has explained in shoot interviews that they went on breaks at times, and that Candido knew she had other partners, but was so in love with her that he tolerated all of it as long as she didn’t leave him for good.
8. Steve Austin Got His Nickname From A Serial Killer… And His Ex-Wife
In The Steve Austin Story documentary that WWE produced, Steve Austin explained how he arrived at the Stone Cold nickname. He said he was watching a documentary about a serial killer and got his mind working on how he might take that real life villain’s personality and cold demeanor and contort it into a wrestling character. Just then, his then-wife Jeanie advised him to drink his tea before it got “stone cold.”
Stone Cold would go from a cold, calculating heel that worked his way up to the upper card, before evolving into the beer drinking, defiant character fans around the world know and love. And so, what wound up one of the most popular, iconic personas in wrestling history started with a serial killer documentary and a doting wife. Not exactly likely source material, but boy did it work!
7. The APA Beat Up The Public Enemy For Real In Front Of The Fans
When The Public Enemy, who’d made their name in ECW, debuted in WWE, they had a brutal match on Raw opposite Ron Simmons and Bradshaw, The Acolytes. Little did fans know that the soon-to-be APA looked tough in that match because they weren’t just acting—by all accounts, they legitimately beat the tar out of Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge.
Accounts vary as to whether Simmons and Bradshaw acted of their own volition, or based on orders from management, but the idea was to test out the newly arrived tag team to see if they could hang, and to see if they were team players. The Public Enemy was gone shortly thereafter. They didn’t make the cut, and The Dudley Boyz have famously cited that they had their own up hill battle when they made it WWE, to prove not all ECW tag teams were soft.
6. Vince McMahon Wanted Himself (And His Children) To Work An Incest Angle
Rumors abound about Vince McMahon’s interest in running an incest angle. The closest he really seems to have gotten was the pairing of Paul and Katie Lea Burchill, a kayfabe brother and sister with sexual undertones that were never fully realized. Ken Shamrock has claimed McMahon wanted him to be involved an incest angle with his kayfabe sister Ryan, too.
The worst of all may have been McMahon’s suggestion to reveal himself to be the father of Stephanie’s baby. When Stephanie shot that idea down, without hesitation, McMahon offered an idea that Shane would be revealed to be the father. Stephanie and Shane put their foot down in saying no to the angle, but spoken openly about their father’s suggestion on the WWE-produced documentary about Vince’s life.
5. Andy Kaufman And Jerry Lawler Worked America
Long, long before Vince Russo rolled up on the scene, Jerry Lawler and Andy Kaufman cornered the market on worked shoots. The twosome innovated an elaborate, reality bending story that included Kaufman starting out well outside pro wrestling circles, incorporating wrestling into his stand up comedy work and proclaiming himself the Intergender Champion of the World, en route to actually wrestling women. This all paved the way for Kaufman and Lawler to enter a war of words, and then an actual wrestling match—the first point at which there was reason to think that fix was in.
Lawler beat Kaufman badly in the ring, and Kaufman paid for himself to be taken to the hospital—again, on the line of what fans would accept as real or think to part of a wrestling angle. Finally, Lawler and Kaufman appeared on David Letterman together and got into a confrontation with each other that included Kaufman throwing coffee at the King, and Lawler slapping the comedian in the face.
For the last incident, only Kaufman and Lawler were in on the plan, and it was widely believed to be a case of real life animosity boiling over. It was only years later, and after Kaufman’s death, that Lawler openly explained the two were friends and had planned everything.
4. Bret Hart Cheated On His Wife All The Time
Throughout his book, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Bret Hart made no bones about the fact that he met a lot of women along his travels with WWE, and took a number of them back to his hotel room. All the while, Hart was married to his first wife.
There’s a sadness in the way Hart writes about these memories. It’s clear that he was lonely and he concedes that while his colleagues found solace in alcohol and painkillers to escape their physical ailments and long stretches of time away from home, women were Hart’s vice. It’s a troubling confession from a wrestler with a good reputation for how he conducted himself professionally and treated his colleagues back in the day.
3. Daniel Bryan Hid Seizures From WWE
Daniel Bryan reached the peak of his career at WrestleMania XXX when he not only opened the event by pinning Triple H, but finished the night submitting Batista to win the WWE Championship in the main event of the biggest show of the year. It’s not clear what Bryan’s future might have been had he been healthy. The writing was already on the wall for both Brock Lesnar winning the title and for Roman Reigns to be the next top guy in WWE. You have to believe that Bryan would have enjoyed at least few months as champion had his body allowed it, though, and remained a fan favorite for years to come.
Bryan wasn’t healthy, though, and head injuries forced him to vacate the title. His comeback effort the following year only lasted a few months before he had to retire. After he’d officially said farewell to WWE fans on Raw Bryan spoke with ABC News to reveal that he had had seizures related to his history of concussions, and compelled his wife, Brie Bella, not to tell anyone in WWE. Bryan’s health would end up forcing him to hang up his boots soon enough anyway, but it’s frightening think what might have happened had he kept going, while secretly suffering from seizures.
2. Triple H Suggested The Montreal Screwjob
In 1997, Bret Hart got into an ugly situation with WWE. By his own account, he didn’t want to leave the company, but Vince McMahon explicitly told him he couldn’t pay off his long-term contract and encouraged him to do what was in his best financial interest and head to WCW. Hart signed with Eric Bischoff, but the issue remained of what to do with Hart’s WWE Championship.
It’s well established that this all led to the Montreal Screwjob, but it took longer for it to come out that Triple H was the one to suggest the conspiracy against Hart. In WWE’ Heartbreak and Triumph documentary about Shawn Michaels, Triple H explains his insertion in backstage talk with Michaels and McMahon that if Bret “won’t do business, then why don’t we do business for him?” Smarks tend to hate on Triple H for politicking and this may have been one of the first substantive instances of Triple H messing with a top star.
1. CM Punk Considers His WWE Career A Failure
CM Punk held the WWE Championship for over a year straight starting in November 2011—the longest continuous reign for any WWE Superstar since the 1980s. He held world titles five times, and worked a number of WWE PPV main events. For all of these successes, however, Punk said on Colt Cabana’s The Art of Wrestling podcast, that he considers his WWE run a failure.
Punk gauges his time with WWE through a very specific metric. Punk wanted to main event a WrestleMania. Not just work a world title match. Not just work with one of the company’s top stars or in a match WWE billed as a main event. He wanted to close the biggest show of the year by working the last match. Punk is nothing if not stubborn in his beliefs. He made it clear that that ‘Mania main event was the last goal he hadn’t yet accomplished in WWE , and the factor that he rested his WWE legacy on. When he caught word he was to face Triple H at WrestleMania 30, and not in the last match, that seemed to have been a big factor in deciding to walk from the company in early 2014.
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