WWE will oftentimes find a way to intentionally or unintentionally denigrate the legends who made their name in the promotion, or offend the families of legends who have since moved on to the great big squared circle in the sky. That seemed to be the case a few weeks ago, when WWE thought that the best way to establish Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson as unsavory bullies was to have Anderson rip the head off of a Dusty Rhodes teddy bear Bayley had given to Rhodes' son Goldust.
A lot of this can be chalked up to pettiness on the part of WWE's big boss himself, Vince McMahon. While he often ends up forgiving a lot of wrestlers who had parted with WWE on poor terms, it's not uncommon for him to take a long time to do so. Vinnie Mac could be a regular troll as he takes it out on these talents, and it often makes for some uncomfortable WWE television. Or he could take years before inducting certain individuals into WWE's Hall of Fame, even if they have long deserved to be enshrined.
Whatever the reason may be, there has been many a time when WWE has disgraced legendary performers in one way or another, and here are 15 of the more prominent examples of such.
15 PAIGE SAYS REID FLAIR "DIDN'T HAVE MUCH FIGHT IN HIM"
Oh, we miss the days when Paige was a legitimate threat for the WWE Divas (later Women's) Championship, and not wrestling dirt sheet fodder due to her antics with real-life beau Alberto Del Rio/El Patron. But if there's a point in time when things began to go south for the Anti-Diva, it would have been that time when, in an attempt to generate heel heat, told Charlotte that her late brother Reid Flair, who died of a drug overdose in early-2013, "didn't have much fight in him."
To blame Paige exclusively for this uncalled-for promo would be unfair, as most signs point to WWE Creative having her cut her heel promo that way. But the segment had nonetheless offended Charlotte and Reid's parents — WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair and his ex-wife Elizabeth, who both issued public statements decrying the angle. Since then, we haven't seen Paige booked as a legit WWE Divas/Women's Championship contender, though it's not like her recent injuries and rumored attitude problems haven't been a factor as well.
14 SABA SIMBA
A mainstay of WWE programming in the pre-Rock 'n' Wrestling Era, Tony Atlas was one of the company's first successful African-American wrestlers, as he and Rocky Johnson became the first black holders of the WWE World Tag Team Championships. He left the company in 1987 and dealt with personal demons while wrestling for other promotions, and when he came back to WWE in late-1990, Vince McMahon had a little surprise waiting for him — one of the most racially-insensitive gimmicks of all time.
Instead of being brought back as Tony Atlas, he made his return as Saba Simba, a proud African tribesman, complete with spear, shield, and traditional headgear. And it wasn't like WWE was putting this Saba Simba guy over as someone new — upon his re-debut, McMahon and Roddy Piper openly acknowledged that he was, in fact, Tony Atlas embracing his African heritage and "legally changing" his name to Saba Simba. Didn't help much that Piper quipped that Simba "looked like a fool" in his new gimmick.
Much later, Atlas credited the gimmick with saving him from homelessness and drug addiction. But to the average wrestling fan, Saba Simba was the worst possible way for anyone to portray a black wrestler — and take note, this happened in the era of the Ugandan savage Kamala and just a year before Papa Shango's WWE debut!
13 TRIPLE H EXPLAINS WHY CHYNA DOESN'T BELONG IN THE WWE HOF
We now know that Triple H's stand on this issue has changed following Chyna's untimely death in 2016, but in the last few years of her life, The Game wasn't too keen on the idea of the WWE inducting his ex into the Hall of Fame. Speaking on the Stone Cold Podcast, Trips told Steve Austin that he wasn't comfortable with the idea of his young daughters Googling the name Chyna, and discovering her post-WWE career as an adult film actress, and possibly stories of her troubled post-wrestling life in general.
Funny Triple H would mention that, because the WWE obviously didn't have any problem making Sunny a Hall of Famer, despite the fact that she's had numerous run-ins with the law, not to mention some links to adult content even before her Vivid Entertainment film and her "pay for play" nude Skype sessions. Oh, and what about the plethora of legit nudies featuring past and present WWE women in their pre-sports entertainment days?
We think Triple H's comments from 2015 were informed not by fatherly concern, but rather the messy transition from dating Chyna to dating, then marrying Stephanie McMahon.
12 ENTER... AND EXIT THE DRAGON
Ricky Steamboat is one of the most technically-gifted wrestlers of all time — that as much is true. Whether you're talking Steamboat vs. Randy Savage in the then-WWF or Steamboat vs. Ric Flair in WCW, you're talking all-time classic matches that fans talk about to this day. But before Steamboat and Flair resumed their old rivalry in 1989 to the tune of multiple five-star matches, he had to first leave Vince McMahon's fold, upset with the jobber-to-the-stars push he received after taking time off to support his pregnant wife.
In 1991, Ricky Steamboat returned to WWE, but instead of being billed as such, he was only known as The Dragon, with precious few references to his solid upper midcard run under his usual ring name in the mid-1980s. He routinely squashed jobbers, but often lost to big-name talent, thereby reestablishing him as a JTTS, and worse than that, had to wear a literal dragon costume and reinforce Hawaiian/Asian stereotypes with his gimmick.
Steamboat is now in the WWE Hall of Fame, but his brief 1991 run is probably something the company wants fans to forget.
11 BILLIONAIRE TED (AND FRIENDS)
At the start of 1996, WWE was in a creative and financial rut, as big-name stars were leaving (or planning to leave) left and right and occupational wrestlers were ruling the company's midcard. With WCW nipping at their heels in the Monday Night Wars, WWE decided to fight back with a series of vignettes featuring Billionaire Ted's Wrasslin' Warroom. These quick skits aired at the end of RAW, and would feature Billionaire Ted and his creaky buddies The Huckster and Nacho Man, with Scheme Gene joining in a little later on. And boy, were they painful to watch.
This was WWE's way of hyping up the "New Generation" and stressing that WCW's top talents, such as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, were old and washed-up. While one single skit may have been fine, WWE kept ramming them down fans' throats as they got less and less funny. They didn't help WWE's business one bit, and when the nWo debuted months later, it was safe to say that WCW had the last laugh, at least for the meantime.
10 MAE YOUNG, BUMP-TAKING GRANNY
Most wrestling fans under 40 remember the late Mae Young as a horny grandma who could, on her best days, take nasty bumps inflicted by male wrestlers, and on her worst days, be in a storyline with an oversexed wrestler young enough to be her grandson (Mark Henry) and eventually "give birth" to a "hand." Or probably show off her "puppies" — actually saggy prosthetic bosoms — to the crowd during the height of the Attitude Era. Heck, she even "gave birth" at the age of 89, with the "baby" being none other than Hornswoggle.
To be fair, Young did appear to be having fun playing such roles on television, and was all for taking hard bumps despite her advanced age, as Bob Holly recalled in his book, The Hardcore Truth. But we have to remember that this is the woman who trained The Fabulous Moolah, as both of them reigned as two of the industry's top female talents for multiple decades. It's such a pity that many younger fans recognize her comedic WWE stints ahead of her legacy in women's wrestling.
9 ALCOHOLISM/ADDICTION AS A STORYLINE (JAKE ROBERTS AND ROAD WARRIOR HAWK)
You'd think the WWE would want to support their talents as they deal with what they call "personal demons," but oftentimes, they take the opposite route and make light of such battles. Two such examples took place in the 1990s, starting with Jake "The Snake" Roberts' 1996-97 comeback. After he lost to "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in the finals of the 1996 King of the Ring tournament, Roberts moved on to a feud with Jerry Lawler, who would repeatedly poke fun at Jake's battles with the bottle, often crossing the lines of good taste, and arguably driving what would be an eventual relapse for one of WWE's brightest talents of the late-'80s and early-'90s.
A few years later, WWE was having it up to here with Road Warrior Hawk's drug and alcohol problems, so what did Creative do? Why, they turned it into a storyline, with Hawk going as far as to threaten to commit suicide by jumping off the TitanTron, and the future Droz (then known as "Puke") pushing him off so he could take his place in the Legion of Doom. Surely there were better ways to deal with Hawk's real-life issues, but it was those issues that may have contributed to his death in 2003 at the young age of 46.
8 THE DUSTY RHODES TEDDY BEAR INCIDENT
And here it is — the newest example in this list and the main reason why we've got this list in the first place. To jog your memory on this very recent angle, it all started on the final Monday Night RAW of 2016, when Bayley gifted Goldust with a teddy bear dressed in his father Dusty Rhodes' polka-dot attire. Goldust was naturally touched by the kind gesture, but it wasn't long before he and R-Truth were ambushed by Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, acting like schoolyard bullies and tearing the head off the Dusty teddy bear.
The skit may have been done to help Gallows and Anderson regain the heat they lost through all those defeats and questionable comedy segments. But it naturally offended Dusty's son and Goldust's younger half-brother, former WWE Superstar Cody Rhodes. And while Cody was diplomatic about things despite obviously being upset, Dusty's old friend "Superstar" Billy Graham wasn't, taking to social media to suggest that the person who wrote the skit should be fired from WWE.
We probably wouldn't go that far, but certainly there are better ways to make Gallows and Anderson a legit heel threat once again.
7 STING IN WWE
It was something that wrestling fans had been hoping to see for years — Sting in WWE. And we finally got it at Survivor Series 2014, as the Stinger helped Dolph Ziggler hang on as the sole survivor and beat Team Authority. This helped set up a program with Triple H, and Sting vs. Triple H at WrestleMania 31 was scheduled to mark the then-55-year-old Sting's first-ever match in WWE after a decades-long career and World Championship runs in WCW and TNA.
You would expect Triple H, an authority figure who only wrestles a couple of times a year, to put over the debuting Sting, despite being ten years younger. But if you did, then you probably don't know how the McMahon family rolls. Sting lost the match to Triple H, then lost several months later to Seth Rollins in a match that ultimately forced him into retirement. He was made to look weak and overhyped in that brief period of time he was an active WWE wrestler, but most of all, his poor booking was probably WWE's way of rubbing it in years after the fact — we beat WCW, and WCW was the inferior product all along!
6 BRET HART: SHORT ON CHARISMA, SHORT IN STATURE, SHORT ON TALENT
The Montreal Screwjob was, in the eyes of Vince McMahon, a means to an end, a way to prevent Bret Hart from leaving WWE with his title belt. But he did promise shortly before Survivor Series 1997 that he wouldn't greenlight anything that would be tantamount to mockery of the Hitman's character. Well, guess what he did just two weeks later, on the November 24, 1997 episode of Monday Night RAW.
It was an all-out mockery of Bret Hart on that Monday night, as DX called out a little person dressed like the Hitman, with matching wig and black leather jacket. With a young Triple H calling the action and dissing Bret as being short in every sense of the word, Shawn Michaels reenacted the Screwjob with the midget wrestler, and while fans in attendance seemed to be eating it up, it does make for very uncomfortable watching in hindsight.
5 "DR. HINEY" OPERATES ON "GOOD OL' JR"
We have a lot of good reasons to believe that Vince McMahon doesn't like Jim Ross. From his pronounced Oklahoma twang to his folksy, down-to-earth demeanor, everything about Good Ol' JR screams "old-school wrasslin'," and you know how Vinnie Mac feels about that in relation to his brand of "sports entertainment." And it's no surprise that McMahon has taken great delight in trolling Ross quite a few times in the past.
No, we're not talking about JR in a toga at WrestleMania IX, or the revelation of Fake Razor Ramon and Fake Diesel, accompanied by the first of two short-lived JR heel turns. We're referring to the gross, unfunny angle where Vince, as "Dr. Hiney," performed "colon surgery" on a dummy representing the legendary announcer, and with the help of a buxom female assistant (the oh-so-subtly named "Nurse Slobberknockers"), removed all sorts of junk from the dummy's rear-end, all with a taped recording of Ross screaming out his trademark "BAH GAWD!" and other catchphrases in the background.
Mick Foley himself had said this — only Vince himself found this skit, which mocked Ross' real-life colon surgery, to be funny.
4 CM PUNK MOCKS PAUL BEARER'S DEATH
The wrestling world was shocked when William Moody, a.k.a. Paul Bearer, succumbed to a heart attack in March 2013. And since CM Punk was currently feuding with Bearer's most famous charge, The Undertaker, at the time of his passing, WWE thought it would be a good idea to have the recently-dethroned WWE Champion get himself more heat by mocking Paul Bearer's real-life death. This included interrupting 'Taker's tribute to his manager/storyline father figure, stealing Bearer's urn, and, together with advocate Paul Heyman, attacking 'Taker and emptying the urn on The Phenom.
In the end, The Undertaker would avenge Paul Bearer's death by defeating Punk at WrestleMania 29 and extending his 'Mania winning streak to 21 victories. But a real-life legend's passing had no place in wrestling storylines, and that point was hammered home when Bearer's sons, Daniel and Michael Moody, criticized WWE for taking things too far.
3 MACHO MAN'S POSTHUMOUS HALL OF FAME INDUCTION
When "Macho Man" Randy Savage left WWE in 1994, it upset Vince McMahon, but they had nonetheless parted on relatively amicable terms, and the door was open anytime he wanted to return. But that door had shut a few years later, as Vince was reportedly working on bringing the Macho Man back as his WCW contract was due to expire. Rumor has it that it had come to Vince's attention that Savage was, in 1993, in a relationship with his then-underage daughter Stephanie, and that the future Billion Dollar Princess had tearfully admitted this to her dad, giving Vince justification for not bringing Savage back as planned, and not bringing him back ever again.
Over two decades later, those rumors remain just that, but what we know as fact is that WWE and Macho Man were estranged from each other up until Savage's tragic death in 2011. He was inducted into WWE's Hall of Fame in 2015, but anyone who grew up watching Savage in his heyday would agree that he should have been there much sooner, and inducted while he was still alive.
If you were a major wrestling promotion who just lost one of its brightest stars at such a young age while he was still actively wrestling for the company, chances are you would honor his memory on your flagship program's next episode and leave it at that. Not WWE, though, as the company decided to reference Eddie Guerrero's untimely death time and again and make some money off of it in 2005 and 2006. From the "Viva La Savings" banner ads to the Eddie Guerrero Memorial Lowrider, it was a tacky way of "honoring" Latino Heat so soon after his passing.
Of course, we all know that wasn't just it. How about Randy Orton telling Eddie's real-life friend Rey Mysterio that "Eddie's in hell"? Or Mark Henry telling Eddie's nephew Chavo that he "spits on the Guerrero name" and would spit on Eddie too if he was alive? We can go on. And this did go on until the end of 2006, as WrestleCrap came up with the perfect name for this disgraceful treatment of a modern-day legend — "Eddiesploitation."
1 THE SELF-DESTRUCTION OF THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR
WWE is usually very respectful when it comes to video collections and documentaries released in recognition of legendary performers. The 2005 documentary The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior is the sole exception to this rule, as it was a 90-minute hatchet job where WWE specifically interviewed people who didn't like working with The Ultimate Warrior during his multiple WWE stints. It was only the likes of Chris Jericho, Edge, and Christian — all of them then in their early-30s and having grown up watching Warrior on TV — who came close to offering a flattering portrayal of Parts Unknown's most famous resident.
Yes, we understand that Warrior was a pain to negotiate with, regardless whether your name is Vince McMahon or Eric Bischoff. A lot of us disagree with Warrior's statement that "queering doesn't make the world work," and realize that he oftentimes was a jerk to fellow wrestlers and fans alike, not to mention the owner of a limited moveset. But even if this documentary was released years before Warrior made peace with many of the men he once infuriated in and out of the ring, it wasn't fair at all to ignore the fact that he was one of wrestling's most iconic and compelling figures of the late-'80s and early-'90s.