Ever since the WWE became a household name in the late 1980s, the company has had its share of critics. Owner Vince McMahon and his brain trust have continually tried to push the envelope in many ways. From faux Africans to wrestlers wearing black face, the company has got on the wrong side of different individuals and groups for over 30 years. It isn’t just racist interviews or actions that have angered fans. The WWE’s wrestlers have been known to make derogatory references towards fans and other wrestlers. It hasn’t stopped there, as one all-time great claimed he had relations with a Hollywood star while having a live mic. All of these incidents have caused fans to turn off their television sets, stop buying tickets or rail against the product. There is no worse heat than ‘go home’ heat.
There was a time when wrestling companies could get away with some pretty offensive acts. Those days are finished, however. Although the WWE says it is entertainment, wrestling is different. It is a spectacle that fans can almost reach out and touch. Unlike films or television shows, it is something that brings emotion out in fans the same way a football or baseball game does. That is why any politically incorrect action or statement made by the WWE today makes headlines instantly.
No matter how many times the WWE says it is just like Hollywood films, it isn’t. To many, it is still REAL!
15. Wrestlers With Fake Learning Disabilities
The WWE and Vince McMahon seem to love wrestling characters who portray a learning disability gimmick. In 2004, Nick Dinsmore made his WWE debut as Eugene. Playing the part as Eric Bischoff’s relative, Eugene was pushed as the ultimate underdog. Apparently, the WWE believes the only underdogs in the world are people with handicaps. In the storyline, Bischoff was embarrassed of Eugene, which put more heat on the former head of WCW. Dinsmore got the character over, and Eugene was popular for a time. Eugene isn’t the only wrestler to portray such a gimmick. Doc Gallows wrestled in the WWE as Festus from 2007 to 2009. According to Gallows, McMahon helped the wrestler create some of the mannerisms he used as Festus. In an interview in 2017, Gallows stated McMahon had no clue the former Bullet Club member had even been Festus upon his return to the company. It looks like the gimmick had little impact on even the owner of the company.
14. Jinder Mahal’s Inappropriate Promo
In a recent episode of Smackdown Live, WWE World Champion Jinder Mahal made several “racist jokes” towards Japanese wrestler Shinsuke Nakamura. The promo was so inappropriate that fans began to chant “That’s too far,” during his five-minute rant. In Mahal’s defence, he was most likely just reciting a terrible promo written by a writer who knows little about wrestling and has aspirations of making it in Hollywood. Almost immediately after the incident, the WWE’s PR department was fast at work. The company released a statement that read:“WWE Corporate is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide.”
13. Inside Jokes About Orientation
Many kids watching the WWE in the late 1980s and early 1990s would have heard the iconic voices of Gorilla Monsoon and Lord Alfred Hayes on commentary. The two greats would call match after match, giving us memorable clichés like “the irresistible force meets the immovable object”. The dynamic duo would also make inside jokes in regards to known or perceived gay wrestlers and co-workers. During matches, one of the commentators would proclaim the wrestler, whose sexuality was in question, graduated from The Terry Garvin School of Self-Defence. Monsoon would also state that certain wrestlers took “special lessons” from Pat Patterson as well. Both Garvin and Patterson were openly gay while working with the WWE, but few – if any – fans would have known at the time. This made the remarks seem strange watching in those kayfabe days. Now, it seems a politically incorrect remark made by Monsoon and Hayes; especially knowing what we do about Terry Garvin today after he was accused of harassing boys.
12. Sgt. Slaughter Turns His Back On America
In 1984, bad guy Sgt. Slaughter saw the error of his ways, and thus turned good. The face turn enabled Slaughter to battle the Iron Sheik in a number of high-profile matches as WWE national expansion unfolded. However, Slaughter’s rise was curtailed by Hulk Hogan’s ascendency as the WWE’s No. 1 good guy. In 1985, Slaughter left the WWE after Vince McMahon refused to allow Slaughter to appear in the G.I. Joe toy line without receiving some kind of royalties. Slaughter’s return to the WWE coincided with tension in the Middle East. He took on an Iraqi sympathizer gimmick that was so strong it could have got Slaughter killed. According to Bruce Prichard’s Something to Wrestle With podcast, Prichard stated the company had no clue war would actually be declared when the angle was started. Although Slaughter’s Iraqi sympathizer gimmick is seen by many as a great run, others see it has in bad taste. Those in the latter camp feel the WWE made money off of real-life events that saw people lose their lives.
11. Muhammad Hassan Storyline
Mark Copani, an American of Italian descent, was given the Muhammad Hassan gimmick in 2004. What was the WWE’s idea? Naturally, it was to have an Arab wrestler on the heels of 9/11. Originally, Hassan was portrayed as an Arab-American unhappy with how the United States’ media portrayed Muslims. However, instead of him changing people’s opinions, the WWE’s writers made into a cliché. Not only was it in very bad taste, but it was incredibly dangerous to have Copani play the part as 9/11 was still fresh in the minds of Americans. In July 2005, the WWE’s writers thought nothing of having Hassan order men dressed in black masks to beat up the Undertaker. The episode of SmackDown in which the segment aired, was shown the three days prior to three suicide bomb attacks in London, England. Hassan was quickly written out of WWE storylines due to the UPN Network pressuring the company to keep him off of television. Since being released from the WWE after losing to the Undertaker at the 2005 Great American Bash, Hassan has stated he hasn’t even been in a wrestling ring.
10. Roddy Piper Face Paint
In 1990, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was embroiled in a feud with the hated Bad News Brown. Piper and Brown began feuding at the 1990 Royal Rumble, and it culminated at Wrestlemania VI in Toronto. The double count out finish would be easily forgotten, if it hadn’t been for Piper painting half his body in black shoe polish. Why did he paint half his body black? Apparently to get into Brown’s head before the bout is the storyline reason. However, the idea was one that Vince McMahon himself seems to have come up with. After retiring, Brown stated Piper was a racist during shoot interviews in which he spoke about the angle. Brown stated he learned about the Piper black face during a meeting with McMahon. The meeting was actually meant to be about Dusty Rhodes’ valet Sapphire – the name is a racially demeaning term to black women. In the end, Brown allowed the black face angle to occur as he believed Piper would get what was coming to him. However, Brown was again enraged when the WWE discriminated against him in the Wrestlemania payoff. According to Brown, Piper was paid $50,000 in US currency while Bad News received $10,000 US, plus $2,000 in Canadian currency. Piper was a part-time wrestler at the time, while Brown was full-time.
9. Vince McMahon Uses A Terrible Slur
Plenty of former WWE wrestlers and personnel will tell you Vince McMahon, at 72-years old, is well out of touch with the current state of the world and not just wrestling. It doesn’t help that the billionaire owner resides in the protected confines of Greenwich, Connecticut, which is a world away from the WWE’s audience. However, even McMahon had to know using the N-word was a bad idea when it came out of his mouth at Survivor Series 2005. Speaking to John Cena backstage, who had stopped using his white rapper gimmick by this time, McMahon refers to the champion with the slur. After uttering the derogatory word, McMahon strutted past Booker T. The former WCW wrestler was then able to say his catchphrase, “Tell me he didn’t just say that?” Unnecessary is one of the best words to describe the segment that did nothing to help get heat or get a wrestler over.
8. The Million Dollar Man’s Manservant
In 1987, the WWE unveiled one of the greatest gimmicks of all-time in the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. A WWE cartoon version of Ric Flair’s 1986 persona in Jim Crocket Promotions, DiBiase was everything Flair was and then some. While Flair had the Four Horsemen, DiBiase was paired with wrestler Mike Jones, who was rechristened as Virgil. The name was a rib on the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, whose birth name was Virgil Runnels. It is hard to think of Virgil’s portrayal as anything more than a servant to DiBiase. Throughout their run together, Virgil took care of all of DiBiase’s problems inside and outside of the ring. He was always there and ready to hand over cash at the snap of DiBiase’s fingers. In 1991, after the two had been together for about four years, Virgil finally turned on DiBiase. The two feuded with Virgil winning the Million Dollar Belt at SummerSlam 1991.
7. Flair Claims Hollywood Relationships
Watch any episode of WCW Saturday Night from 1986, and you will hear Ric Flair talking about women. In 2016, Flair hosted an incredibly popular podcast on the MLW Radio Network and just like 30 years prior, he was still talking about women. On an episode in October of that year, Flair’s co-host Conrad Thompson and the “Nature Boy” were taking fan questions from Twitter. One listener asked Flair which celebrities he had slept with during his career. Flair’s response? “Several dozens. Do you want me to start with Halle Berry or what? She was in Atlanta and just got divorced from David Justice.” The revelation that Berry rode Space Mountain was greeted with astonishment from Thompson. Flair’s comments were reported the world over, and it got the WWE Hall of Famer plenty of heat with the company. Berry had to publicly deny the comments in the media and was embarrassed by Flair’s comments.
6. One Man Gang Becomes The “African Dream”
By 1987, the One Man Gang had gone from being a big, unkempt brawler into a wrestler that more resembled a member of a biker gang. The Gang got a run with top talent and headlined cards with Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage after joining the company. However, in September 1988, One Man Gang’s manager Slick informed the world his man was about to change. Slick informed the world that his wrestler was actually from Africa. In addition, Slick claimed One Man Gang would now embrace his African roots. What resulted was the Gang’s transformation into the character of Akeem “The African Dream”. One of the most racist parts of the wrestler’s transformation was a vignette that introduced Akeem to the WWE’s fans. The vignette showed the wrestler in a fake inner-city neighbourhood with the title “the deepest, darkest parts of Africa”. Akeem’s introduction to the world was panned by critics, but that didn’t stop the WWE from having the wrestler shuck and jive around the ring until 1990.
5. WWE World Champion Demographic
The Rock is an eight-time WWE Champion, and is the closest the company has ever come to having an African-American Champion. The Rock’s father, Rocky Johnson, is of black Nova Scotian heritage, while his mother is Samoan. Yes, The Rock can be classed as the first and only African-American WWE World Champion, but it isn’t quite the same as if Booker T or another African-American wrestler lifted the title. The WWE has often got a rap for being a racist company. Even in WCW’s early 1990s, the wrasslin‘ company had an African-American world champion. That occurred when Ron Simmons defeated Vader. The WWE may have been on pace to have an African-American champion in 1995-96 with Ahmed Johnson. Still, no fully African-American champion has been crowned WWE World Champion.
4. Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
The 1980s were a different time in wrestling. As the WWE made its way across the United States during national expansion, things began changing in a big way and very quickly. Despite the changes, racism in promos was still common. In 1985, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine was embroiled in a hard-hitting feud with fan favourite The Junkyard Dog over the Intercontinental title. In a local promo for the monthly Boston Garden show, Valentine referred to JYD as “boy”. He then stated JYD should go back to “shining shoes” and “sweeping floors” after he gets beaten. In a later promo on WWE television, Valentine referred to JYD in a very derogatory manner as announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund looks on trying not to show his disgust. Okerlund looks incredibly uncomfortable as Valentine gets racist heat.
3. CM Punk Uses Slur And Punches Fan
CM Punk was a much loved wrestler during his time in the WWE. He was different and edgy, and that is why fans loved him. However, Punk was a controversy magnet. During Punk’s big run on top of the company, the wrestler was caught calling a fan a derogatory slur against the gay community on video. The incident occurred during an Australian tour and it caused the WWE’s PR department to go into overdrive. Punk even apologized on Twitter, although he probably didn’t write the tweet. In 2012, Punk made headlines again when he assaulted a fan. The wrestler was leaving through the crowd, and as he stood on the steps in Sacramento’s Power Balance Pavilion, several fans shoved him. This caused Punk to shove one fan before beating up another. The only problem was, the fan that Punk beat up wasn’t the one that shoved him. While fighting with fans was once common in wrestling, it isn’t any more, especially if a wrestler goes into the stands.
2. Steve Austin And Vince McMahon
In October 1998, Steve Austin and Vince McMahon were at the height of their epic feud. On the October 19th episode of RAW, things got turned up a notch. In today’s more “kid-friendly” WWE, and in the wake of gun violence in the United States, the segment that appeared on televisions around the world will never be replicated. However, it was done during the Attitude Era, so anything was allowed. During the show, Austin wheeled McMahon to the ring in a wheelchair. Once in the squared circle, Austin produced a pistol and began to tell McMahon that he planned to kill the boss. When Austin finally pulled the trigger, a flag with the word bang shot out of the gun. But the segment didn’t end there. As the camera pulled away, viewers could see that McMahon had wet himself in the ring. Of course, fans ate it up at the time, but looking back, it is a shameful segment during the Monday Night Wars used to pop a rating.
1. Wrestlers Become Addicted
Vic Grimes entered the WWE with a lot of potential. Many believed he was destined to be the next Mick Foley due to his body shape and ability to take insane bumps. However, Grimes’ gimmick was straight out of Breaking Bad rather than professional wrestling. It also helped destroy any chance he had of making it in the WWE. Grimes was saddled with the name Key, as in kilo, and he played the role of a “dealer” turned wrestler. With all of the substance abuse problems WWE wrestlers had during the Attitude Era, it was truly a politically incorrect gimmick. Key spent his short one-month WWE stay teaming mostly with Droz and Prince Albert. During Key’s run, the WWE also pushed a storyline surrounding the Road Warriors. The storyline brought Hawk’s real-life addiction problems to light, despite the Road Warriors not wanting to do the angle. There were connotations that Key helped Droz get into the Legion of Doom thanks to being Hawk’s supplier. It was truly tasteless and had nothing to do with wrestling.
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