For most fans, the Ruthless Aggression is the six-year period that started in the spring of 2002, when WWF "got the 'F' out" and officially became the WWE. It was an era epitomized by men such as Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Brock Lesnar, Batista, Eddie Guerrero, Edge, and John Cena, and on the distaff side, you also had Lita and Trish Stratus' epic feud, and their eventual and premature retirements. It was also the quintessential era of the WWE's brand split, as the company had an especially stacked roster during those days. And when it came to storylines, things were still edgy and very young male adult-oriented – not as much as it was in the Attitude Era, but definitely much more than it was in the eras that followed thereafter.
The Ruthless Aggression was, by and large, a successful and memorable period in WWE history. But it was also an era that had its share of dirty little secrets behind the scenes – tasteless storyline and gimmick plans, backstage incidents, wrestlers battling with personal demons, all sorts of shady business. Today, we shall be looking at 15 of those dark secrets, mainly those that don't get as much attention as others.
15 Randy Orton Had A Near-Fatal OD In 2006
He’s been accused of everything from being rude to fans to using his surname and third-generation status to move ahead to being an extremely boring, if talented wrestler. And he’s also been accused of being coddled by WWE in the light of his repeated Wellness Policy violations. But was Randy Orton so deep into a drug habit that he nearly lost his life? That’s what he related in a 2011 interview with a Phoenix radio station, where he told the story of the time he overdosed about five years prior.
According to the Viper, this was such a severe OD that he stopped breathing, and if it wasn’t for his wife at the time, who called an ambulance, he probably wouldn’t have survived. Orton has been mostly clean since that time, but that story serves as another example of why the young “Legend Killer” was far from being a saint in the Ruthless Aggression Era.
14 Cade And Murdoch Nearly Broke JTG's Legs
Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch had some nasty heat with Cryme Tyme back in their days in the WWE tag team scene. Though JTG didn't name any names in his two short-but-sweet autobiographies, many fans guessed he was referring to Cade and Murdoch as the tag team that often talked down to him and Shad Gaspard, and even changed the finish on the duo during a match, throwing Cryme Tyme under the bus and getting them fired from the WWE.
During their WWE return, the real-life heat continued, as Cade and Murdoch were supposedly annoyed at Cryme Tyme for not selling their finish long enough. Making even things more interesting, the kayfabe cowboys allegedly told their gangbanger-stereotype rivals that they were told by a veteran road agent to break JTG's legs in the shower, but chose not to do so because they "liked them." An unimpressed JTG told Cade and Murdoch off, and that, as far as we know, was the end of their beef.
13 Amy Weber Gets Bullied Out Of The WWE
It was probably a good move on WWE’s part — since 2004 Diva Search finalist Amy Weber was not a trained wrestler (no surprises there), the company gave her a mostly non-wrestling role as the “image consultant” in John Bradshaw Layfield’s Cabinet. And while we’re not suggesting that Weber was one of JBL’s many bullying and hazing victims, she happened to leave the WWE (and the wrestling business, too) over the Wrestling God’s backstage stock-in-trade.
Mere months after her WWE debut, Weber left the company, citing a “frat house-like” locker room culture, cruel ribbing from male colleagues, and low pay as her reasons for departure. She has yet to elaborate on these allegations, though we shouldn’t expect her to, as she’s long left wrestling behind and carved out a career as a B-movie actress and dance-pop singer, even cracking Billboard's dance charts with a couple of singles.
12 Carmella DeCesare Attacked Her NFL Beau’s Alleged Mistress
For most of today’s fans, the only Carmella they know is the Princess of Staten Island and current Ms. Money in the Bank. But years before, there was another Carmella in the WWE, and that happened to be her real name — we’re referring to Carmella DeCesare, who finished second to Christy Hemme in the 2004 Diva Search. Despite her utter lack of any kind of wrestling skills, WWE seemed to have big plans for her. But shortly after losing to Hemme in a Lingerie Pillow Fight at Taboo Tuesday (aren’t you glad to be a fan of women’s wrestling these days?), WWE abruptly released her.
The reason might not have had everything to do with her lack of in-ring or promo talent, as Carmella was involved in a barroom brawl with a woman whom her boyfriend and future husband, NFL star quarterback Jeff Garcia, supposedly had an affair with. While she was acquitted of assault charges in relation to the August 2004 incident, DeCesare was fined $150 and given a year’s probation for violating a restraining order.
11 Dawn Marie Was Fired For Being Pregnant
Best-known for her time in the original ECW, Dawn Marie joined WWE in 2002, and immediately became notorious for killing Torrie Wilson’s father Al by means of torrid sex. (In kayfabe, that is — Al Wilson is still very much alive, of course.) That was the highlight of her WWE career by far, though she also “broke up” Charlie Haas’ relationship with Jackie Gayda, not long before the couple got married in real life.
Shortly after the storyline with Haas and Gayda, Dawn Marie went on maternity leave. Sounds like a benefit you can expect from your average company, right? Well, WWE is not your average company, and not long after approving her maternity leave, WWE fired Marie. We still don’t know if there were other underlying reasons behind her termination, but as far as we know, WWE fired a woman essentially for being pregnant, and Dawn Marie wouldn’t be the last of ‘em.
10 WWE's Original Plans For Heidenreich
Anyone watching during the Ruthless Aggression Era wishes they could forget Heidenreich. He growled out bad poetry. He threatened to sexually assault Michael Cole on live TV. He replaced the late Road Warrior Hawk in the Legion of Doom. He was completely unwatchable in the ring. Despite all those claims to infamy, it could have been worse for Jon Heidenreich. Yes, you read that right — it could have been worse.
Apparently, the original plan was for WWE to book Heidenreich as a frozen Nazi soldier thawed out and set free to wreak havoc in present times. Worse, they were to assign Paul Heyman, who was born and raised Jewish, as his manager! What’s truly unbelievable, but true about this story is the fact that Vince McMahon shot down the idea, as the offending writer’s colleagues stared on in shock. Yes, there was an idea too crazy even for Vince himself, though it may have had something to do with Heidenreich being the kind of big, sweaty man whom Vince would see as a pet project.
9 The "$1 Million" Tough Enough
History simply hasn’t been kind to Tough Enough winners. We’ve seen the likes of Andy Leavine and Josh Bredl (aka Bronson Matthews) fail to sniff the main roster (Bredl/Matthews is in still NXT, but for how much longer?), and we’ve seen Jackie Gayda and Linda Miles (aka Shaniqua) become utter failures mostly known for their near-complete incompetence in the ring. You can file Daniel Puder in this category, as he essentially signed a death warrant for his main roster push by shooting on Kurt Angle.
You may think that Puder would have eventually had the last laugh, as he won the “Million Dollar Tough Enough” in 2004, beating future stars such as The Miz, Ryback, and even The Boogeyman. But he didn’t actually win a million bucks right then and there, as one would have thought — Puder later told TMZ that the $1 million was to be split over four years — apparent false advertising on WWE’s part, but something Puder supposedly knew when he signed his WWE contract, according to company officials.
8 Kelly Kelly (Allegedly) Got Around With WWE’s Male Talent
In that very same interview where he admitted his near-fatal drug overdose, Randy Orton spilled his share of tea on some of his colleagues, including Kelly Kelly. As Orton claimed while discussing the romance storyline he once had with Kelly Squared, there were about 10 “method actors” in the WWE who allegedly got it on with Kelly, and while his interviewer pressed him for more information, the Viper refused to name any names, instead saying that these 10 men were “all the big guys on the roster.”
It’s not clear if Kelly really liked to have fun with her male colleagues, and it isn’t clear either if that all happened during the Ruthless Aggression Era. But we do know that Kelly, who usually goes by her real name Barbie Blank these days, has since settled down, as she is now married to former NHL star Sheldon Souray.
7 Test Quietly Battled CTE
Whether serving as a kayfabe bodyguard to Motley Crue, being Stephanie McMahon’s storyline fiancee, or bonding with Scott Steiner over their mutual dislike of Stacy Keibler, Andrew “Test” Martin was an integral part of WWE’s mid-card from his late ‘90s debut, to his second and final release in 2007. It did help that he was a physical specimen like the ones Vince McMahon always covets, but he was a more than decent worker who probably deserved better.
Sadly, Test passed away in 2009 from a drug overdose, just four days before his 34th birthday. But what many fans might not realize is that he was also suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease that can only be diagnosed posthumously. That meant Test was suffering from brain damage at the time of his death, and possibly in his final years as a wrestler, as he became WWE’s second confirmed case of CTE, following Chris Benoit.
6 JBL Bullied A High School Kid
Thanks to Justin Roberts’ 2017 autobiography, Best Seat in the House, we were made privy to a number of never-before-told anecdotes about John Bradshaw Layfield’s penchant for bullying. You’re probably familiar with the most notorious tale, where JBL allegedly paid two wrestlers (John Morrison and Joey Mercury, apparently) to steal Roberts’ passport. But one bullying story that doesn’t get much attention is Roberts’ claim that JBL picked on someone much younger, and much less likely to fight back — a high school student who was trying to interview him.
According to Roberts, the high schooler was interviewing JBL when he, all of a sudden, dropped his notes in the middle of the interview. Looking to have some fun at the kid’s expense, JBL asked the boy’s mother if she "had any children who weren’t mentally disabled.” It’s bad enough to pick on younger locker room colleagues, but for a wrestler to pick on a high school kid? Completely deplorable, if you ask us.
5 Chris Kanyon Tried To Take His Own Life While Still Working For WWE
Chris Kanyon’s short and troubled life ended on April 2, 2010, when he committed suicide at the young age of 40. For years, he had struggled with bipolar disorder, and had a hard time coming to terms with his sexuality before officially coming out as gay in the late 2000s. That apparently manifested in September 2003, when he took 50 sleeping pills in a suicide attempt, as he admitted four years later on CNN.
At the time of this failed attempt to take his own life, Kanyon was barely visible in the WWE, mostly working dark matches and house shows under his old Mortis ring name when he wasn’t injured. Up to now, he remains a sad example of wasted WWE talent, as he certainly had the potential to do much better when he joined the company via the WCW buyout.
4 JTG’s Encounter With A Racist Hall Of Famer
When wrestlers get drunk out of their wits, they tend to cut something that JTG calls “bar promos.” As he recalled in his second autobiography, bar promos were usually entertaining, and when it came people like Roddy Piper, bar promos often included some “wonderful and touching show(s) of affection.” But that wasn’t the case when another WWE Hall of Famer cornered the Cryme Tyme member, and told him that if it was up to him, African-Americans never would have been accepted in the wrestling business. During their second tense encounter some time after, the unnamed Hall of Famer called JTG “boy” and poked fun at his cornrows.
In both cases, it was the Hall of Famer’s wife (at that time, as JTG helpfully explained) apologizing on his behalf and telling JTG not to pay attention to her husband’s drunken ramblings. No names have been named, but the clues JTG dropped led many to believe that he was referring to Ric Flair, who was, until earlier this year, well-know for his boozing, to say little of his multiple marriages.
3 The Extent Of Kurt Angle's Drug Habit
When one thinks WWE’s Ruthless Aggression Era, Kurt Angle is oftentimes the first wrestler who comes to mind. And while it was a well-established fact that he dealt with drug and alcohol problems for several years before finally getting clean, the extent of Angle’s drug use wasn’t clear until he admitted on Jim Ross’ podcast that he’d take somewhere in the neighborhood of 60+ Vicodins a day, and create a system that allowed him to fool pharmacies into giving him more pain pills.
Angle’s drug issues continued after he left WWE in 2006 to join TNA, and it took a third DUI arrest for him to finally turn his back on booze and drugs a few years ago. He was brought back by WWE this year to be inducted in the company’s Hall of Fame, and he’s been enjoying a great run so far as Monday Night Raw GM, even if fans still clamor for him to return to the ring at 48-years-old.
2 Bob Holly’s Guilt Over Not Saving Chris Benoit
He started out as a kayfabe stock car driver, which meant it would be years before Bob Holly established himself as one of WWE’s toughest S.O.B.s not named Steve Austin. He was a known advocate of backstage hazing (many would say bullying), having shot on Tough Enough rookie Matt Cappotelli, and joined Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit in roughing up Daniel Puder at the 2005 Royal Rumble. But he was also a stand-up guy to his friends, including Benoit as the Rabid Wolverine was getting progressively more troubled behind the scenes.
Years after the Chris Benoit murder-suicide case, “Hardcore” Holly admitted in a shoot interview that he was one of the last people to talk to Benoit before the crime took place. He added that he harbors a lot of guilt for not flying out to Benoit’s Atlanta home to make sure his friend was okay. Could Holly have prevented such a horrific crime from happening? Sadly, we'll never know.
1 Vince McMahon’s Planned "Love" Storyline With Stephanie
In 2006, Stephanie McMahon was expecting the birth of her first daughter, and everyone knew at that time that the father was none other than her established real-life husband, Triple H. Leave it to daddy Vince to try to incorporate his daughter’s real-life pregnancy into storylines, and propose something that could have been more tasteless and cringe-inducing than Katie Vick — a storyline where it would be revealed that Vince was the father of Steph’s unborn child. We can imagine Mr. McMahon’s trademark laugh as he described the storyline to his daughter.
As Stephanie recalled in Vince’s eponymous DVD McMahon, she was revolted by the storyline and turned it down flat. That didn’t stop Vinny Mac, who suggested that Steph’s brother, Shane, be revealed as the baby daddy. It was still a case of no-can-do for the Billion Dollar Princess, and it was only then when Vince gave up on the storyline idea. Thank God – and we're not referring to Shawn Michaels' "tag teammate" – for that.