Every form of entertainment, sport, industry or institution has its own set of rules, a code of practice that its employees, players, students or independent contractors — in pro wrestling’s case — are supposed to follow.
In wrestling, the majority of the rules that apply to the performers are not written down anywhere. Many have joked that any newcomer to WWE should be provided with a handbook that describes precisely how they should and should not conduct themselves in order to sidestep potential problems with their superiors and co-workers, and boost their chances of joining the fast track to success.
Naturally, it’s not just WWE that has a backstage code of conduct: every wrestling organization does.
Some of the rules in wrestling have changed over the years. Until the late 1990s, wrestlers in western companies were instructed to protect the industry’s secrets at all costs. If an outsider enquired, he was assured pro wrestling was an authentic sporting contest. In order to preserve this illusion, babyface and heel wrestlers were forbidden from travelling together and socializing in public places. Some wrestlers took the pretence further than others by remaining in character beyond the ring. Safeguarding the business — kayfabe — took precedence. Wrestlers upheld the code under threat of exclusion from their industry.
Kayfabe was relaxed in most western countries in the late 1990s (it still applies in Japan), and eventually abandoned for talent outside the parameters of a wrestling show. However, a strict code still exists. Even in the post-kayfabe era, wrestlers are expected to adhere to a specific set of rules. It can be extremely damaging to their mood, image and even their status, should they fail to comply.
18 JTG Commits Gimmick Infringement On DX
Former Cryme Tyme member Jayson “JTG” Paul’s memoir, Damn! Why Did I Write This Book?, is an eye-popping account of life in the WWE system from 2006-2014, and the unwritten rules that govern wrestler conduct — and the consequences for those who break those rules, unwittingly or not.
JTG and Cryme Tyme partner Shad Gaspard unintentionally violated WWE’s regulations more than once and found themselves in hot water, as JTG disclosed in Damn!
Take Cryme Tyme’s RAW debut on October 16, 2006. As JTG danced to the ring, he crossed his arms in what an onlooker might construe as a crotch chop-type gesture.
Backstage, one veteran was convinced he had mimicked the crotch chop, as JTG wrote. Though JTG didn’t name the veteran, from his description in the book, it could only have been Shawn Michaels. He confronted JTG about it backstage and gave him a proper dressing-down.
It put a dampener on what had been a triumphant TV debut for Cryme Tyme.
“I felt the backlash,” said JTG in The Power Slam Interviews Volume 1. “It took a great day and turned it into my worst nightmare.”
There’s the proof. Hand gesture infringement is a big no-no in WWE.
17 THE MIZ And "Chickengate"
There was a time when Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, former cast member on MTV’s The Real World, didn’t have much respect in WWE locker rooms.
Although the Tough Enough 4 entrant had gone the distance against Daniel Puder in a shoot boxing match at Armageddon 2004 and spent much of 2005 and 2006 in developmental, many veterans felt he hadn’t earned his spot on the main roster, and resented his very presence in the dressing room.
Those looking for another excuse to flay The Miz received it in 2006 when he spilt chicken on referee Scott Armstrong’s bag while eating in the locker room.
As The Miz recalled on Chris Jericho’s podcast in 2015, his chicken spillage was quickly exaggerated. Wrestlers claimed he hadn’t just dropped chicken on Armstrong’s bag, “[the chicken] got all over everyone’s bags”.
“I thought it was a joke,” Miz told Jericho. He thought wrong.
Chris Benoit took it upon himself to admonish Miz for this protocol infraction. “[Benoit] was so angry,” said The Miz. Miz’s penalty for the chicken incident was banishment from the locker room for six months. He had to dress elsewhere.
“I did get kicked out of the locker room,” a repentant Miz told Jericho. “It was a stupid thing by me.”
16 NEW JACK - Legitimately Trying To Hurt Opponents
Where do you start with New Jack? He’s had an incident-filled career, to put it mildly.
He clobbered Dances With Dudley over the head with his nightstick in a backstage fight in ECW in October 1995, and destroyed Chad Austin in an ECW match in March 1996.
In a tag match on an ECW card in November 1996, New Jack slashed 17-year-old Mass Transit’s forehead open with a knife. So excessive was the wound on Transit’s forehead, assault charges were filed against New Jack (Jerome Young). He was acquitted.
In 2004, New Jack spent about three weeks in the Duval County Jail in Florida after he stabbed opponent William Lane with a metal object in a match. The aggravated battery charge against Young was later dropped.
Of course, no story about New Jack would be complete without the XPW Free Fall incident from February 2002 when New Jack hurled Vic Grimes off the largest scaffold match structure ever assembled in wrestling, causing Vic to almost overshoot the tables in the ring below which had been intended to break his fall.
“I was actually trying to throw him to the floor,” said New Jack in a 2012 interview with Power Slam magazine. Had he succeeded, Grimes might have been killed:
What’s the goal of pro wrestling again? To make it look real without hurting your opponent.
15 SEXY STAR Attacks Rosemary
AAA’s Triplemania XXV event on August 26, 2017 in Mexico City received more worldwide coverage than any Triplemania in years.
Alas, the publicity did not relate to Johnny Mundo’s successful title defense in a three-way TLC match or veteran Dr Wagner Jr.’s historic unmasking, following his loss to Psycho Clown in a mask vs. mask match.
The talk afterwards concerned Sexy Star’s decision to shoot on GFW’s Rosemary after the four-way women’s match.
Star, who has also wrestled for Lucha Underground, applied a cross armbar on Rosemary, who tapped out. After her victory, Star genuinely applied the pressure on Rosemary’s arm and strained her triceps and biceps.
The wrestling community was united in its condemnation of Star when word circulated that she had intentionally injured Rosemary.
“If you deliberately hurt or ‘shoot’ on someone in the ring, someone that is TRUSTING you with their body, you don’t belong in our business,” tweeted Allie.
“DISGUSTING,” wrote Gail Kim.
“Sexy Star will never set foot in one of my locker rooms,” tweeted Cody Rhodes. “I hope others follow suit.”
14 MATT HARDY' Entire Year Of 2005
We can’t imagine Matt Hardy reflects on 2005 with fondness.
Fired by WWE in April that year after he confirmed that his girlfriend Amy “Lita” Dumas was having an affair with Adam “Edge” Copeland, Matt returned three months later for a feud with Edge, loosely based on their real-life animosity, which Hardy lost when he dropped a loser-leaves-RAW match to Edge on the October 3 RAW.
Message from WWE: he should have kept his mouth shut about the affair.
Over on SmackDown, Hardy’s career stagnated, then declined sharply after he changed his role in the angle at Survivor Series in which Undertaker obliterated several wrestlers.
Hardy was supposed to taste an Undertaker choke-slam in the melee. Before he went to the ring, however, he managed to convince the road agent in charge of the match that his image would be harmed, if he was battered by ’Taker, and received permission to exit the ring, while others absorbed a beating.
When Taker learned of Hardy’s egocentric politicking, he was incensed. Ttaker chastised Hardy in front of the entire locker room.
Hardy’s punishment didn’t end there: he was quickly beaten by Randy Orton on SmackDown, and then buried on the mic and crushed in the ring by John Bradshaw Layfield at Armageddon on December 18.
13 KOJI KITAO Drops Wrestling's F-Word On The Crowd
Japan’s Koji Kitao was a temperamental sort.
The man who rose to the rank of yokozuna in sumo in 1986 was expelled from the sport the next year for disciplinary reasons. After making the transition to pro wrestling, Kitao was just as problematic. He lasted less than six months in New Japan.
Nevertheless, thanks to his sumo stardom, Kitao was signed by Super World Sports, the Japanese promotion linked with WWE, and teamed with Genichiro Tenryu to defeat Demolition at WrestleMania VII on March 24, 1991.
Eight days later, Kitao’s SWS career ended after an infamous match with “Earthquake” John Tenta. In one of the strangest matches ever held, Kitao stopped cooperating with Tenta and threatened to gouge his eyes out, It led to a tense standoff, which ended when Kitao kicked the referee. After the finish, Kitao sealed his fate in the company when he grabbed the mic and told fans pro wrestling was fake.
Kitao received a taste of his own medicine in October 1992. After Kitao had refused to lose to Nobuhiko Takada on a UWFI card, Takada took matters into his own hands when he KO’d Kitao with a shoot kick to the jaw.
10 JIM DUGGAN AND THE IRON SHEIK Ride Together
Let’s travel back to the kayfabe era.
On May 26, 1987, Jim Duggan and The Iron Sheik were stopped by police while driving to a WWE show in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Duggan, who was drinking while driving the vehicle, was found to be in possession of marijuana, and Sheik was busted with cocaine.
The indignity of their arrest was exceeded only by the embarrassment of their kayfabe violation: Duggan and Sheik were booked to wrestle against each other that night in a tag match. Despite the arrest, Duggan and Ken Patera defeated Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff as scheduled.
Duggan and Sheik were suspended by Vince McMahon the next day.
The arrest was major news at the time, as The Honky Tonk Man recalled in The Power Slam Interviews Volume 2. “We had a big [wrestlers’] meeting . . . Vince said: ‘Fellas, I guess you heard what happened. [Duggan and Sheik] were riding together.’ Vince didn’t say anything about the booze or the drugs.
“The problem was that these two guys were in one of the hottest programs in America: the flag-toting American Duggan and the Iranian Iron Sheik — USA vs. Iran. And they got pulled over together, drinking beer, and [wrestling] was exposed to the world.”
In wrestling 30 years ago, breaking kayfabe was a greater crime than breaking the law.
8 THE KLIQ's Preferential Treatment And The Curtain Call
Shawn Michaels, Kevin “Diesel” Nash, Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall, Sean “1-2-3 Kid” Waltman and Hunter Hearst Helmsley comprised The Kliq, the notorious backstage faction that ran roughshod over WWE from 1995-1996.
Tales are legion of The Kliq's backstage machinations, such was their strength in numbers and hold over Vince McMahon. According to Troy Martin, who wrestled for WWE as Dean Douglas in 1995, The Clique once telephoned McMahon from Indianapolis to inform him they were all going on strike. In response, Vince immediately left WWE HQ in Stamford, Connecticut and flew to Indianapolis, where he spent two days driving around with The Kliq in their white minivan.
The Kliq self-serving behavior was largely an industry secret, until the Curtain Call at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1996 when Ramon, Helmsley, Michaels and Diesel broke character and hugged, faces and heels together, after Michaels had defeated Diesel in the main event. In WWE, it might be the famous violation of the wrestlers’ backstage code ever.
7 EDDIE MANSFIELD Exposes The Business On 20/20
While “Dr. D” David Schultz’s brutal slaps to the face of reporter John Stossel are the enduring memory to most viewers of 20/20’s 1985 exposé of pro wrestling, it was wrestler Eddie Mansfield’s contributions to the story which infuriated the pro wrestling community at the time.
Mansfield, a former mid-carder in Florida, Texas and Georgia, demonstrated to Stossel how matches were worked and, worse, how wrestlers bled in matches by trimming a razor blade with scissors, wrapping the sliver of steel in white tape and slicing his forehead.
The industry was aghast at Mansfield’s on-camera violation of the secret wrestler code. To many, this was the day on which kayfabe died.
Mansfield’s in-ring career essentially ended when the piece was broadcast. There were people in wrestling who genuinely wished harm upon him for flagrantly exposing the business. Then-WWE Intercontinental champion Greg Valentine was among them.
6 JOHN CENA Goes Through Alex Riley's Personal Belongings
Ryback and Gabe Tuft, who wrestled as Tyler Reks, have singled out John Cena for criticism since they left WWE.
On his in Conversation With The Big Guy podcast, Ryback claimed Cena purposefully sabotaged him and other talent, in particular Alex Riley.
“John would sit back there [in WWE] and bury Riley in front of everybody for no reason,” said Ryback on his January 9, 2017 podcast. “Because of John Cena, [Riley’s] career is over in WWE.”
Tuft elaborated on Cena’s treatment of Riley in an interview on Reddit in December 2015: “There was some sort of unknown, unreasonable heat between Riley and Cena . . . Everybody on the roster thought Cena was treating him in a way that was totally uncalled for.”
Tuft continued: “It’s completely against the wrestler code to ever go through another wrestler’s bag. One day, Riley walked into an empty locker room and Cena was just going though his bag. He found some pre-workout vitamins and bitched [Riley] out for taking supplements.”
Riley confirmed in an interview with Jim Ross this year that he had clashed with Cena: “There was an incident and it certainly changed the path of my career. I don’t want to discuss it right now . . . It was a tough situation at times.”
5 ANDRE THE GIANT No Sells
Andre The Giant was regarded as a safe worker upon whom promoters could rely to follow instructions to the letter. True, he drank a lot, but that neither prevented him from fulfilling his bookings nor affected his performance when the bell rang.
Except on April 29, 1986 when Andre battled Akira Maeda on a New Japan card.
Maeda was a shoot-style pro wrestler whose submission- and suplex-based style was considered revolutionary in the 1980s. The drawback to his technique was that he disliked working American-style matches with Western performers, feeling they lacked realism, and was opposed to losing to anyone whose style differed from his own.
Perhaps this attitude motivated Andre to enter their 1986 match in no condition to perform and disregard the script.
An intoxicated Andre refused to sell Maeda’s kicks or trade moves. Intermittently, Maeda took Andre down and they briefly grappled on the mat, and then rose to their feet and the cycle resumed. Understandably, Maeda seemed alarmed and baffled by his opponent’s behaviour.
Amazingly, this went on for more than 26 minutes. The match was finally stopped by New Japan boss Antonio Inoki, who had watched in obvious consternation from ringside.
4 THE PUBLIC ENEMY Get Put In Their Place
Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge did not endear themselves to their contemporaries when they joined WWE in 1999. This backfired on them, spectacularly, in a match with The Acolytes at the Heat television taping on March 2 that year.
According to John Bradshaw Layfield on his website in 2013, TPE arrived four-and-a-half hours late for the taping and “walked in like they owned the place”.
JBL claimed that TPE “didn’t want to put [The Acolytes] over” in their match that night and, after “finally” agreeing to a disqualification finish that would involve a table, they changed the outcome, without authorization from management, just before they went to the ring.
The Acolytes, under orders from agent Gerald Brisco, followed the original match plan, and beat the hell out of Rock and Grunge in the process.
It was a career-killer for Rock and Grunge, who were fired by WWE the next month, and did nothing of note in wrestling again.
Interestingly, there were some in the business, including Mick Foley, who felt The Acolytes were at fault that night, not The Public Enemy, for taking liberties with their opponents.
3 JACKIE PALLO Exposes The Business In Tell-All
Jackie Pallo was the most famous wrestler on the British scene in the 1960s and early 1970s. His matches with Mick McManus attracted some of the largest television audiences of the day. Pallo’s fame was such that he was able to transition into acting. For years, he was the highest-paid wrestler on the British circuit.
But as his career wound down, Pallo split from promoter Dale Martin and decided to set up his own company. His shows were poorly attended, and Pallo lost a great deal of money.
Embittered by his experience as a promoter, Pallo found an outlet in which to vent his discontent, a tell-all autobiography, You Grunt, I’ll Groan: The Inside Story Of Professional Wrestling.
Published in 1985, Pallo’s memoir, in which he admitted matches were predetermined and wrestlers sliced themselves with razor blades to extract blood, was greeted by a storm of anger in British wrestling. A decade later, many wrestlers hadn’t forgiven him for ratting out the business for personal profit.
Satoru Sayama, the original Tiger Mask, wrote a similar book in Japan around the same time, entitled Kayfabe, in which he admitted that pro wrestling was prearranged entertainment. Japanese wrestlers weren’t pleased that one of their own had broken the code, either.
2 SCOTT STEINER Deviating From The Script
Scott Steiner was unquestionably WCW’s most feared competitor — behind the scenes.
With brother Rick in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he had a reputation for roughing up jobbers in tag matches. At Wrestle War 1992, this extended to New Japan’s Tatsumi Fujinami and Takayuki Iizuka, whom the Steiners hammered in a brutal match.
But the real problems began after Steiner went solo in 1998. As WCW began to crumble backstage, Steiner magnified the chaos by deviating from the script for his own amusement, apparently.
He was suspended in February 2000 after he had called Ric Flair “a jealous old bastard” on Monday Nitro, without permission. In June that year, he was suspended again, for 11 whole days on full pay, following an unpleasant exchange with Terry Taylor. He insulted Diamond Dallas Page’s wife Kimberly and, in December, tore into Page in an unscheduled in-ring promo. Backstage, Page could take no more, and attacked Steiner when he walked through the curtain. This course of action ended very badly for DDP.
Other wrestlers were appalled by Steiner’s disrespectful conduct in WCW, and the failure by management to properly discipline him.
Clearly, they were scared of him as well.
1 MONTREAL DOUBLE-CROSS
It would be difficult to put a figure on the number of people who violated the code before, during and after the double-cross in the match between WWE Champion Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series 1997.
Vince McMahon had never wrestled at the time, so perhaps we cannot include him — even though he changed the match finish from a disqualification to a Michaels victory, without notifying the soon-to-be-WCW-bound Hart. Referee Earl Hebner, who carried out McMahon’s orders after swearing to Hart that he would not betray him, is exempt as well.
Which brings us to the wrestlers. After the match, Michaels and ally Hunter Hearst Helmsley strenuously denied that they had any foreknowledge of the double-cross. Their denials were caught on camera and preserved for all eternity in the Wrestling With Shadows documentary. Neither Bret nor then-wife Julie believed Michaels or Helmsley when they professed their innocence.
They were right. Michaels was a willing participant, and Helmsley, as Shawn revealed years later in his autobiography, had told Vince in a conference call that he shouldn’t trust Hart to drop the title before he left for WCW, and feared that the WWE Championship might end up on Monday Nitro. Did Helmsley plant the seed? Could the double-cross have been avoided, had he kept his mouth shut?