As a fan, the beauty of professional wrestling lies within the suspension of disbelief. We have been conditioned to watch the performers we love and transport ourselves to a magical land sitting somewhere between reality and fiction. As our love and passion for the art that is professional wrestling grows, we develop a deep sense of care for the performers involved and the product itself. Usually this manifests itself as becoming a “smark.” But, regardless of whether you treat pro wrestling as a casual pastime or a full-blown passion project, it is difficult not to become curious about the real lives of those involved and the company that produces the shows we love every week.
A multi-billion dollar organisation such as the WWE is bound to have some shady dealings and skeletons lurking deep in its closet. And if you look closely enough you can see that there are a number of factors that might position WWE, the company, as a less than wholesome organisation. While the professional wrestling industry has cleaned up its act since the cocaine-fuelled and steroid-heavy days of the '80s and '90s, with Vince McMahon remaining as its figurehead there will always be remnants of its shady past. As a company floated on the stock market, the WWE does everything it can to uphold a respectable corporate image, but there will always be elements of it that are questionable. In the following article, I’ll examine 15 of the most sketchy and horrible facts about the WWE as a company.
15 Links With Donald Trump
This one could depend on which side of the political fence you sit on, and as we’re not here to discuss ideological differences, we’ll leave that element to the side. Donald Trump, the current US President, has a pretty undesirable track record of business dealings and poor treatment of others regardless of his political leanings. Yet, the WWE top dogs (the McMahon family) has a very close relationship with the most powerful man in the world.
Trump Plaza has hosted two WrestleManias and Trump himself made an infamous appearance at ‘Mania 23. In 2013, he was inducted into the Celebrity Wing of the WWE Hall of Fame. Linda McMahon is currently part of the Trump administration and the whole McMahon family were photographed with the President himself in the White House earlier this year.
14 Systematic Elimination Of Competition
Any hugely successful business has usually been ruthless in its elimination of its competition and the WWE is no different. The biggest threat to WWE’s dominance occurred in the mid to late nineties when WCW flourished during the Monday Night Wars, but Vince and company prevailed by ushering in the Attitude Era. Since their purchase of WCW in 2001, the WWE hasn’t shied away from openly deriding and criticising their former rivals even 16 years after the war ended.
Prior to this, Vince had broken away from the NWA to form the renegade promotion that now sits atop the pro wrestling world. Even now with complete and utter dominance of the industry, Vince still seems determined to shut down any competition, regardless of how small they may be. Recent reports of a potential purchase of Ring Of Honor prove that the McMahons thrive on defeating any potential suitors to their throne.
13 Poor Injury Management
Professional wrestling is a hugely physical undertaking and the performers not only risk injury, but also death, with some of the stunts they perform on a regular basis. WWE understands this and recognises it, but due to their heavy schedule, there is an underlying belief that the performers don’t receive the level of medical treatment often required.
This was highlighted most abundantly during CM Punk’s now-infamous podcast interview with Colt Cabana. Punk revealed that he had been wrestling with a highly dangerous staph infection for months and was refused any medical treatment from WWE doctors. Sadly, this shows that unless they are literally unable to walk, the health of the performers often takes a back seat as “the show must go on” in the eyes of management.
12 The Reality Of Life On The Road
WWE talent are on the road for the vast majority of the year. Not only does this involve constantly moving between a different city nearly every night throughout the US, it also includes overseas travel to Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia. The life of a WWE superstar is incredibly nomadic and can appear to be a lonely and depressing journey at times.
Performers are often driven to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs and long-term relationships are nigh on impossible to maintain. Mickey Rourke’s Oscar-nominated jaunt in The Wrestler was widely received as a fictional account of a well-trodden real-life path for pro wrestlers. Men like Scott Hall and Jake “The Snake” Roberts are perfect examples of how this unforgiving schedule can negatively affect the lives of those tasked with undertaking it.
11 The Never-Ending McMahon Soap Opera
One of the biggest complaints about modern-day WWE programming is the continual reliance on authority figures, in particular the McMahon family. It’s the type of self-indulgent storytelling that pushes fans to organisations like Ring Of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling where action supersedes drama and there is little sign of those in charge on TV broadcasts.
The Attitude Era is long gone and this was the one period where Vince McMahon’s presence served a purpose. Now, Stephanie and Triple H provide the heel authority figures the company apparently feels necessary for storylines and Shane is omnipresent on SmackDown, although his impact is minimal. The fact that Shane McMahon has been afforded two stellar WrestleMania opponents in The Undertaker and AJ Styles in the last two years tells you everything you need to know about who runs the company!
10 The Company Values Size Over Skill
Since the days of Andre The Giant and Hulk Hogan, WWE has always been renowned for its preference of size over skill in its performers. These days, talent in pro wrestling is not solely determined by in-ring skills, but the modern-day fan expects this to be a facet of most pro wrestlers. The audience also finds it easier to relate to smaller athletes, those who represent the everyman and woman.
Despite this, Vince has always had a thing for muscles and while he’s in charge, there will always be preferential treatment given to the big men on the roster. While Braun Strowman has been outstanding recently, it’s all too easy to remember the Big Show’s mostly catastrophic career and the fact that the Great Khali is a former World Heavyweight Champion.
9 Performers Work As Independent Contractors
The WWE makes its considerable fortune from the efforts of its performers. Ticket sales, pay-per-view buys and merchandise sales are all driven by the popularity of the superstars themselves. Yet none of these men or women are a full-time employee of the company. All WWE talent are employed as “independent contractors” and earn a percentage of company income based on their performance.
In this day and age, it appears completely archaic that a company like WWE refuses to put its most valuable assets on the full-time employee roster. This means that the wrestlers sacrifice benefits such as a 401k and health insurance. Worse still, it also means that the wrestlers are responsible for their own associated costs including travel, accommodation and even their ring attire.
8 Disgusting And Offensive Angles
While the WWE has enthralled us through the years with inspiring stories and feel-good moments, it has also provided us with some of the most unbelievably inappropriate storylines imaginable. Its easy to believe that Vince McMahon still thinks like a teenage boy when you read a list of some of the immature garbage that we’ve been fed over the years.
Some of the worst examples include the infamous Katie Vick angle where Kane was accused of necrophilia and the company exploiting Jeff Hardy’s real-life tragedy as they created an angle where his brother Matt was responsible for burning his house down and killing his dog. Probably the worst example of this was the company’s exploitation of Eddie Guerrero’s death as a promotional tactic in the lead-up to Rey Mysterio’s maiden world championship victory.
7 History Of Cover Ups
The WWE is accused of many things, some more ludicrous than others including being part of the Illuminati! However, there is a genuine belief that the company is responsible for covering up some major indiscretions in order to preserve their image. The most believable of these is the theory that Vince McMahon knew about Jimmy Snuka’s alleged murder of Nancy Argentino and covered this up for years in order to protect one of his most valuable talents at the time.
Another alleged cover-up is the apparent affair between Macho Man Randy Savage and Stephanie McMahon, which prevented him from receiving a Hall of Fame induction until after his death. Some of the cover-ups may be a little far-fetched though, including the theory that the Ultimate Warrior was murdered by the company in 2014 due to his disturbingly prophetic speech shortly before his death.
6 Harassment And Abuse
WWE has a disturbing history of sexual harassment and abuse taking place behind closed doors. Vince McMahon is the prime offender for the most part and his indiscretions include a tanning salon employee accusing him of groping her in 2006 and Sable filing a sexual harassment case against the company in the nineties. Further to this, Rita Chatterton, WWE’s first female referee, alleged that she was sexually assaulted by Vince in his limousine after requesting more work.
Vince isn’t the only official to muddy his name through these allegations though. In 1993, Jerry “The King” Lawler was indicted on charges of allegedly sexually assaulting a 15-year old girl and was forced to miss Survivor Series that year due to the case. Although the charges were dropped after the girl admitted to lying about parts of the story, Lawler’s reputation has been forever tarnished by this incident.
5 Toxic Issues With Drug Use
Drug use is a mainstay in the entertainment industry and sports entertainment is no different. Sadly, the WWE has been riddled by endemic and irresponsible use of recreational and performance-enhancing drugs for many years. The steroid scandal of the early nineties opened a window into the level of performance enhancing substance abuse that took place in the company. But, the recreational drug use is even more worrying.
Vince McMahon himself has long been rumoured as a heavy drug user, especially during the '80s and '90s where wrestler promos were often driven by cocaine-fuelled lunacy. There have been high-profile cases of former wrestlers struggling with substance abuse problems and overdosing, and drugs seem to have contributed to the deaths of performers such as Bam Bam Bigelow, Chyna, Crash Holly, Brian Adams, Matt Borne (the original Doink the Clown), Luna Vachon, Miss Elizabeth, Curt Hennig, Sherri Martel and Test.
4 Constant Early Deaths
Further adding to the previous point, the slew of early deaths within the professional wrestling world has constantly been a major cause for concern. The demands of the profession both physically and emotionally have been the underlying cause for many of these great performers leaving this world well before their time. Sadly, the vast majority of these deaths take place before the performer has reached the age of 50.
Drug overdoses, heart failure, murder and a worryingly large number of suicides have contributed to the great loss this industry continues to suffer. WWE does have measures in place to support performers post-wrestling career, but it doesn’t seem to be sufficient in preventing these continual tragedies. The upcoming documentary feature on Chyna, made shortly before her death, will likely give fans a very uncomfortable look inside the lives of our favourite wrestlers once the WWE deem them surplus to requirements.
3 Culture Of Bullying
After fight sports commentary veteran and SmackDown announcer Mauro Ranallo left the company recently, citing mental health issues, a light has been shone on the inherent bullying culture that appears to be rooted in WWE. At the heart of this issue is former WWE Champion, John Bradshaw Layfield, who has long been recognised as a locker room bully through his unsavoury antics. These were highlighted recently in former WWE announcer Justin Robert’s book when he retold a story of JBL asking some wrestlers to steal his passport. Worryingly, it seems that Vince McMahon was privy to the incident and thought it hilarious.
Bullying has long been rife in the WWE and stories of The Fabulous Moolah exploiting female performers financially and sexually are also prevalent. It seems that certain members of the WWE fraternity are bulletproof when it comes to this type of despicable behaviour.
2 Shocking Treatment Of Women
In 2016, two women headlined a WWE pay-per-view for the first time in history when Charlotte and Sasha Banks clashed at Hell In A Cell. This marked a startling turnaround for a company that has long devalued and disrespected its female performers. With women seen in the past as nothing more than eye candy, it still begs belief that the women’s division was still known as the “Divas” division in 2015.
From derogatory incidents such as Vince making the legendary Trish Stratus bark like a dog to the ridiculous array of Bra and Panties or Evening Gown matches that have taken place, WWE has long been a place that stunk of gender inequality. Thankfully this looks to be changing, but the perception of a company obsessed with white male privilege is difficult to shake.
Women aren’t the only target in WWE’s arguably bigoted approach to entertainment. Accusations of systemic racism within the company have been around for years and it’s hard to argue with these. With the exception of The Rock, who is part-Samoan, there has never been an African-American WWE Champion. Yes, Mark Henry and Booker T both held the now-defunct World Heavyweight Championship, but that was always presented as the secondary world title in the company. Booker famously took part in an awful overtly racist angle with Triple H in the build to their WrestleMania clash.
WWE aren’t above using issues of race to build an angle either. Take the Gang Wars of the Attitude Era, for example, and the stables that were built around the race of the performers involved. Vince McMahon's reluctance to put his top title on an African-American wrestler has long been a point of contention in the wrestling world and with the Universal title now positioned as the company’s top belt, it doesn’t seem like things will change anytime soon. Big E looked to be the most obvious candidate to fill the void, but his move to SmackDown means that he may only compete for the now-secondary WWE Championship. And that's assuming The New Day breaks up, which doesn't seem likely at this point.