Unless you're a team that's tanking, conventional sports teams and their players have every right to refuse to lose. Heck, future Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari even went as far as to trademark the term and write a book with that as a title. You would think that that's not the case in pro wrestling, where bookers decide who wins and who loses. But we've seen countless examples of wrestlers refusing to "do the job" for one reason or another. It could be born out of ego, or born out of logic and common sense (usually the former and not the latter), or there could be another reason all together. But it's certainly not unusual for wrestlers to balk at putting their colleagues over and letting them have the win.
For the purposes of this list, we've compiled 15 examples, mostly from WWE, but also including a few examples from other wrestling promotions. But we've tried to make things as democratic as possible, and that means limiting things to one example per wrestler. After all, it goes without saying that there are certain wrestlers who have seemingly built their careers on refusing to lose. (Minor spoiler alert) Isn't that right, brother?
15 Triple H (WrestleMania XIX, 2003)
It’s a bit surprising if you consider the fact that Triple H recently broke the record for most losses at WrestleMania, but not at all a surprise if you remember that we’re talking about The Game here, the King of Kings, the Cerebral Assassin himself, the man once known in full as Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Trips has had his share of occasions where he’d refuse to lose to someone who needed the rub, but the most notorious, we’d say, is the time he beat Booker T at WrestleMania XIX.
Evidently, this was a feud that Booker needed to win. In the lead-up to ‘Mania, Triple H cut one of the most infamous promos of his long career, telling Booker that “people like you” don’t win world titles. But instead of Booker T having his WrestleMania moment and getting comeuppance for Trips’ racially-charged insults, he was pinned cleanly by The Game, becoming another victim of his “reign of terror” during the early Ruthless Aggression Era.
14 Rey Mysterio (WWE Night of Champions, 2009)
You might not think of Rey Mysterio as one of those guys who'd have the audacity to tell the people in charge that they're not losing to their opponent for a given night. But it did happen, albeit only once as far as we know, as Mysterio was, as of 2009, Intercontinental Champion. He and Chris Jericho were feuding for the mid-card title and making it feel relevant again, but just as it seemed as if Rey would be enjoying a long reign as IC champ, WWE turned around and asked him to drop the title to a young up-and-comer (and onetime male cheerleader) named Dolph Ziggler at Night of Champions.
Unhappy that WWE was undoing the hard work he and Jericho had put in to make the Intercontinental title mean something for the first time in ages, Mysterio refused to do the job. WWE gave in to his wish, but it wasn't too long after when he was suspended for a Wellness Policy violation, and left with no choice but to lose his belt.
13 Jeff Jarrett (WWE No Mercy, 1999)
Just think about it for a moment. The last time Jeff Jarrett worked for WWE, he was only 32-years-old. Now he's 50, and WWE still wouldn't touch him with a ten-foot pole. He must have done something really bad to deserve WWE's unforgivable rage, and that something was to refuse to lose his Intercontinental Championship to Chyna at No Mercy 1999. Take note that he was on his way out of the company and on his way back to WCW.
There's a twist here that I'm sure many of you are familiar with, which is Jarrett eventually agreeing to do the honors, to the prohibitive tune of $300,000 for that one match at No Mercy. With WWE feeling as if Double J had a gun pointed at their heads, they had no choice but to acquiesce, and while Jarrett has done pretty well for himself since then, it's clear that Mr. "Don't Piss Me Off" pissed WWE off big-time.
12 Honky Tonk Man (WWE, 1988)
Today’s fans mainly see him as a relic from an era gone by, when it was still possible to be one of the world’s nastiest heels as an Elvis Presley impersonator. But The Honky Tonk Man was, and still is, if length of title reigns is the only determining factor, the “Greatest” Intercontinental Champion in WWE history. He held that title for a good 64 weeks, and despite Santino Marella’s best efforts and regular “Honk-a-Meter” updates, neither he nor anyone else in the last 30 years has beaten that record.
Rumor has it that Honky was supposed to lose the title at one point to “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who had turned face in late 1987 and kicked off a feud with the ersatz Elvis that lasted till early the next year. Instead of putting the hotter star over, Honky refused, and went on to set the IC title reign record that still stands today. Fortunately, the WWE had a pretty sweet consolation prize for the Macho Man, and that was his first WWE Championship, which he won at WrestleMania IV.
11 The Shield (WWE Elimination Chamber, 2013)
These days, they’re widely regarded as the most dominating faction in WWE’s recent history. Just think what would have happened to Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns had they not spoken up and refused to lose against the three-man team of John Cena, Sheamus, and Ryback at Elimination Chamber 2013. We’re not sure if Vince McMahon had gotten tired of The Shield after just a couple months on the main roster, much like he tired quickly of other promising NXT call-ups. But the bottom line is that they were originally booked to lose, and they made it clear in no uncertain terms that they weren’t in favor of it.
As Ambrose recalled on the Talk is Jericho podcast, losing to Cena in particular would have made The Shield “just like everybody else, because that’s what (Cena) does to everybody else.” Well said, Dean. And well played, Shield, for a loss to Big Match John might have turned them to another version of a faction we’ll be discussing in the Cena entry in this list.
10 Bob Backlund (WWE, 1983)
From 1978 to 1983, Bob Backlund held the WWE Championship, defeating all comers for a now-unbelievable five years and eight months. And while there were few, if any, who could outdo him in terms of mat skills, there was a bigger problem at hand, something that Vince McMahon wanted to rectify when he took over from his father. See, Backlund was too bland and too small for the new vision Vince Jr. had in mind for the company.
With said hot newcomer, Hulk Hogan, bringing a tall, muscular build and loads of charisma over from the AWA, WWE wanted him as their new champion to usher in a new era, but Backlund wasn’t having it, due to Hogan, even then, being substantially lacking in the technical wrestling department. This was well before he snapped and became the unhinged "Mr." Backlund, so turning heel to put over a hot newcomer was similarly out of the question.
Instead of losing his title to Hogan, Backlund instead dropped his belt to the Iron Sheik, who then served as a transitional champion when the Hulkster beat him for the title less than a month later.
9 Chyna (WWE Judgment Day 2001)
Prior to the year 2001, Chyna had more than proven her mettle as a female wrestler competing against men. She had competed in the Royal Rumble, held the Intercontinental Championship, and there was even talk that WWE could make her the first woman to win the WWE Championship. Instead, it was decided that she would compete in the Women’s Division, but the Ninth Wonder of the World only agreed to compete with other females under one condition — she had to win the title immediately.
WWE acquiesced to Chyna’s request, as she easily defeated Ivory at WrestleMania X-Seven. And they did so once again when the impressively-built former DX enforcer refused to lose to the much smaller Lita, even if she was to win through Eddie Guerrero’s interference. Chyna beat Lita in her only title defense, but sadly, WWE had the last laugh, as the company soon fired her partly over that refusal to lose, but mainly due to escalating issues with ex-boyfriend Triple H and his soon-to-be-wife, Stephanie McMahon.
8 Ric Flair (WCW, 1991)
Ever wonder how WWE did the unthinkable and signed Ric Flair in 1991? For those who aren't aware, it mostly centers around Flair's unhappiness with then-WCW EVP Jim Herd, a man whose genius ideas included launching a hunchbacked tag team called The Ding Dongs. In all seriousness, Herd knew precious little about wrestling, and he felt that the Nature Boy was better off as a gimmicky, short-haired, earring-wearing gladiator called Spartacus, and much better off dropping his WCW World Championship to Lex Luger.
As Flair saw Sting and the perpetually underrated Barry Windham as worthier heirs to his title, Herd reacted by firing the future 16-time World Champion, which led to his defection to WWE. Which wasn't much better after all, but hey, at least Flair wasn't trading his signature robes for a gladiator's helmet and armor.
7 Roddy Piper (WrestleMania II, 1986)
Although he never won a WWE Championship and was, for the most part, an upper mid-card talent, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper made a big deal out of his claim that he’d never been beaten. This was put to good use as one of WWE’s top heels of the ‘80s — remember how he bullied jobber Frank Williams on Piper’s Pit? But things did get serious outside of kayfabe when WWE asked Piper to lose to Mr. T in their boxing match at WrestleMania II.
As Piper felt that it would cheapen the business if he lost to an actor best-known for playing a boxer, but not an actual boxer, he put his foot down and refused to lose cleanly to the guy who played Clubber Lang in Rocky III. WWE didn’t budge due to Mr. T’s status as a marquee celebrity, but nonetheless reached a compromise with Hot Rod, allowing him to lose via DQ instead of the clean loss that was originally planned.
6 John Cena (WWE SummerSlam 2010)
It seemed like the perfect way to get a faction of eight young and promising newcomers over – actually, the seven remaining members, with the guy they dismissed in storyline (while being fired from WWE in real life) making a triumphant return for the other side. The Nexus was an instant hit as the invading cast of the first season of NXT, the reality-based rookie search. Originally, the plan was for them to beat Team WWE at SummerSlam 2010 in a 7-on-7 elimination tag match, and continue their reign of terror. But someone had other plans for that match, and his name...is John Cena.
In one of the worst "audibles" anybody had ever called in WWE history, Cena allegedly insisted on singlehandedly overcoming the odds against Team Nexus and emerging as the last man standing, despite the best efforts of Edge, Christian, and Chris Jericho to talk him out of it. This move had effectively turned the once-mighty stable into a joke, and Cena would later on admit that he regrets refusing to lose to The Nexus at SummerSlam. Of course, the damage had already been done by then.
5 Shawn Michaels (WWE, 1997)
Due to the one-example-per-wrestler restriction we mentioned above, it's hard to choose one memorable example of Shawn Michaels refusing to put someone over. He was notoriously difficult to work with in the 1990s, and prone to many a tantrum or elaborate stunt, all for the reason that he refused to count the lights. And since you've probably heard enough tales of HBK tantrums, we're going with an example of the latter – an elaborate stunt designed to avoid taking the loss.
As Bret Hart had put Michaels over at the main event of WrestleMania XII, beating HBK in an epic 60-minute Iron Man Match that went into overtime, the Hitman had fully expected Shawn to return the favor at WrestleMania 13. Instead, Michaels tearfully announced his retirement and vacated his WWE Championship, citing a career-ending knee injury and the loss of his smile. Many wrestlers have alleged that Michaels was just faking it to avoid putting Hart over at Mania, and while that's yet to be proven, it bears mentioning that he was back in the ring just a few months later.
4 Hulk Hogan (WWE King of the Ring 1993)
Now Hulk Hogan is one of the men on this list whom you could say built his career on his refusal to do the job. At the risk of beating the proverbial dead horse, it was politics, not prayers, vitamins, or superhuman wrestling skill, that made the Hulkster run wild on the WWE from the '80s to the early '90s. And since he was off to WCW in 1994, you could also say he saved the best for last, as he made his return from a months-long hiatus in time for WrestleMania IX, saving his "friend" Bret Hart from the evil Yokozuna, and winning the WWE Championship from the kayfabe sumo wrestler, just minutes after Yoko had beat Bret for it in an underwhelming 'Mania main event.
Of course, Hogan and Hart were no longer friends at that point, and things got worse when Hulk refused to go with the plan and put Bret over at SummerSlam 1993 because the Hitman was too small. Instead, Hogan dropped the strap back to Yokozuna at King of the Ring, doing the honors as he left WWE, but not doing the honors for the man he was originally supposed to pass the torch to.
3 Stan Hansen (AWA, 1986)
Though younger fans are probably more familiar with JBL’s mid-card heel cowboy run as Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw, the evil cowboy shtick had been around far longer than that, as exemplified by men such as Stan Hansen, who had a few brief runs in the old WWWF, but mainly made his name in All Japan Pro Wrestling and, back home in the U.S., Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association. He won the AWA World Heavyweight Championship in December 1985, but when the company wanted him to lose the belt to the aging Nick Bockwinkel
Unhappy that the AWA wanted him to drop his title despite the fact he was advertised in AJPW as the AWA’s top champ, Hansen defied Gagne by defending the title in Japan. And rather than lose to Bockwinkel at a June 1986 event, Hansen no-showed, forcing the AWA to strip him of his belt. An angry Hansen later mailed his belt back to the AWA, but not before he repeatedly ran it over with his truck.
2 "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (WWE, 2002)
In 2002, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was still a huge draw in professional wrestling, but at a point where his career was essentially winding down. Meanwhile, Brock Lesnar was wrestling’s next big thing, and as is often the case with older wrestlers, Austin was asked to put the Beast over. But we all know that Austin 3:16 doesn’t say “I just did the job,” and the Texas Rattlesnake proved that by walking out of the WWE rather than losing cleanly to Lesnar on Raw. Take note of this – Austin wasn't upset at losing per se, but rather at the idea of WWE giving away a marquee match on free TV.
Following his walkout, Austin was buried on Monday Night Raw, as Vince McMahon and Jim Ross both insinuated that Stone Cold “took his ball and went home.” But unlike CM Punk many years later, Austin made nice with Mr. McMahon, settling his differences with his longtime on-air adversary and returning to the company in 2003 before retiring at the young age of 38 due to nagging neck injuries.
1 Bret Hart (WWE Survivor Series 1997)
Two decades later, it's still the most infamous example of a wrestler refusing to do the job for someone, and a lot of fans believe that Bret Hart was at least partly justified in his actions. With Hart and Shawn Michaels at each others' throats for most of 1997, the Heartbreak Kid allegedly told the Hitman at one point that he wouldn't be willing to lose to him, and from that point on, it was decided – Bret was changing his stance and likewise refusing to lose to his bitter rival.
Giving Bret even more reason to refuse to do the job was the fact that Survivor Series 1997 was scheduled in Montreal, and with Hart signing a deal with WCW shortly before the event, he thought all was fine when he was told he could leave Montreal with the WWE Championship following a double-DQ "schmozz" finish, and drop the strap at a subsequent Monday Night Raw.
Of course, that wasn't what happened, as Vince McMahon called for the timekeeper to "ring the f****** bell" as Michaels had Hart in the Sharpshooter. That led to years of bad blood between Bret and the WWE, though both sides have thankfully set their differences aside.