The professional wrestling business is tough. For a wrestler to succeed, especially in the context of WWE or other truly national companies, he or she needs to maintain physical conditioning, and pair that with a rigorous travel schedule. You can add onto that media appearances, as well as all variety of fan interactions—some of which involve upholding kayfabe, others of which call upon wrestlers to be kind even when they have other things they’d rather be doing.
Wrestlers also exist within close quarters with one another, not only working together, but often traveling together, and sometimes splitting hotel rooms. While bonds can develop over these experiences, all of the contact, the demands of the job, and a healthy dose of immaturity can result in some mischief, or far worse.
Some wrestlers have had poor interactions with fans. Some have had issues with one another. Some have been cruel to their friends or even their families. Some have put others at risk, or even taken actions that resulted in someone else’s death. Sometimes these matters have malicious intent behind them, while others were not the wrestler at hand’s fault, but nonetheless still haunt them to this day. The culture of documentaries, tell all books, and podcasts, more and more of these stories are coming out to the public these days.
This article takes a look at 15 prominent wrestlers from throughout the history of the business. The focus is on the very worst things that they have openly confessed to having done.
15 15. Kevin Owens Bullied A Kid In The Crowd
The story broke via social media of Kevin Owens picking on a young fan at a WWE event. His mother posted about it, claiming the boy was a huge WWE fan and they got seats on the aisle for a live show with the hopes he’d get a momentary interaction with many of his favorite stars. He was excited to see Owens, only for Owens to single him out for verbal abuse. The mom reports Owens deriding him for wearing a Roman Reigns t-shirt and saying he wasn’t one of his fans.
The funny thing about this seemingly callous interaction? Owens in no way denied it, instead embracing his heel role and going so far as to insult the mother on Twitter in response, suggesting that she was less concerned about her child than grubbing for free WWE merchandise.
14 14. Lex Luger Badly Influenced Miss Elizabeth
Lex Luger’s life entered a bit of a spiral after WWE bought out WCW. He would never appear for WWE as a wrestler again. His work on the indies was largely viewed as a farce and a shell of what he’d once been (an infamous blown promo in which he stumbled over his words and fumbled trying to get a t-shirt off was his best known spot), and he’d end up with a temporary paralysis that left him wheelchair bound. Perhaps the worst part of all, his girlfriend Miss Elizabeth ODed.
While Luger can’t be held responsible for decisions Elizabeth made, he has cleaned up his life, found religion, and openly confessed that he feels he facilitated Miss Elizabeth’s death through their drug addicted, unhealthy lifestyle together.
13 13. Scott Hall Had To Cross A Line In Self Defense
Scott Hall is remembered as an icon of 1990s wrestling for his WWE work as Razor Ramon, and his WCW work as New World Order founder Scott Hall. It has been no secret, however, that the man beneath these gimmicks suffered from personal demons including alcoholism and drug abuse.
These matters came to a head in ESPN and then WWE documentaries released in recent years, in which Hall discussed an incident prior to his wrestling career, when he was working as a bouncer. He got into an altercation with an unruly patron who had a gun, and wound up shooting the man dead. Hall did not end up facing any prison time under the circumstances, but it’s clear the emotional and mental toll of the incident had weighed on him for the rest of his life. Professionals interviewed for the WWE documentary suggested that the incident led to post traumatic stress disorder that likely fed his substance issues across decades to follow.
12 12. John Cena Picked A Fight With The Rock, For Real
John Cena is generally looked at as a stand up guy in the wrestling business. He is ultra reliable in terms of never saying the wrong thing in media appearances, never missing spots, and rarely running into serious injuries. On top of that, he’s known for his charitable work, including selflessly giving his time to the Make A Wish Foundation.
There is a darker side to Cena, though, which includes infidelities and politicking against lesser stars. A lot of these points are suspected, but shrouded in uncertainty, in part because Cena hasn’t commented on them publicly. He has, however, copped to needlessly creating and then elevating tensions with The Rock. This includes calling him out as uncommitted for leaving WWE behind and then working a very, very part-time schedule upon his return. It also included taking personal shots at him on social media and even in in-ring interviews, walking a razor thin line between storyline and real life in a way that he consciously knew got to the People’s Champ in real life. He has since admitted he was in the wrong, particularly as he begins his own transition to part-time status.
11 11. The Big Show Soiled Himself During A Match With Brock Lesnar
For fans, wrestlers have a certain aura around them, as we’re fascinated by their real life personalities and backstage happenings. One source of intrigue, too, is their sheer physicality. While it may be a bit silly, or even juvenile, it has crossed many a fan’s mind—for a guy as big as The Big Show, he must destroy a toilet when he has to do his business.
Show admitted to a time when he didn’t make it to a toilet, though. On the contrary, during a particularly physical exchange in the ring with Brock Lesnar, he actually defecated himself mid-match. In the interview, Show recalled Lesnar laughing about it and asking Show to confirm what had happened. Show, for his part, told him to stop laughing and hit him with an F5 quick so he could get backstage and clean up.
10 10. Shawn Michaels Wrestled Under The Influence
Young Shawn Michaels wasn’t the nicest, most respectful, or most professional person. In the mid-1990s, he came of age as arguably the most talented in ring performer in the world. There is no shortage, however, of accounts about him politicking or being downright rude and disrespectful to his colleagues.
In a particularly reckless, dangerous decision, Michaels has admitted later in life that there were occasions when he went so far as to go to the ring drunk. This is a huge conflict with the wrestlers’ code to protect each other’s bodies first and foremost in the ring, as he couldn’t really be trusted to look out for his opponent’s safety and his own while intoxicated. In a more sober and mature state of mind, Michaels has admitted it was a huge mistake.
9 9. Chavo Guerrero Had A Conversation With Chris Benoit After He’d Committed His Despicable Acts
Chavo Guerrero Jr. has had a long and accomplished career in wrestling which included making the most of less than ideal booking in both WCW and WWE. Along the way, he worked with a wide variety of top talent, and, in the relatively early stages of his career, was in with a crew anchored around his uncle Eddie, that also included stars like Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit.
Guerrero is actually widely suspected to have been the last person to have spoken with Benoit before he killed himself. As he discussed in an interview, reassembling the timeline, he suspects that they were actually on the phone after Benoit had killed his wife and son, before he took his own life. This experience has to haunt a guy who considered Benoit a friend but, like everyone, can’t condone the horrific actions at the end of his life.
8 8. Triple H Proposed The Montreal Screwjob
Quite a bit has been written about the Montreal Screwjob in which WWE infamously sent Bret Hart packing to WCW by contriving circumstances to make it look like he’d submitted to kayfabe and real life enemy Shawn Michaels in a match in Canada on his last night with the company. This was a watershed moment for the business as dirty laundry from behind the scenes was aired openly for a pay per view audience, and the foundation for the evil authority figure Mr. McMahon was crystallized. As time moved on, more and more people came clean about the particulars of how the Screwjob went down. It all started with Triple H.
A number of parties involved have told the same story, and Triple H has openly confessed his role, sitting down with Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon and suggesting, “If he doesn’t want to do business, then let’s do business for him.” While the Screwjob was certainly cruel to Hart on a personal level, it remains unclear if anyone involved (besides Hart and his allies) really regrets it given the positive impact it had for WWE’s business in the long run.
7 7. Vader Cost Mick Foley An Ear
Most fans know the story by now that Mick Foley lost most of one ear in a particularly brutal match with Vader in Germany. The original lore surrounding the match suggests that Vader actually beat it off of him with his well known stiff style of offense. In his first book, Foley placed less responsibility on Vader, more or on ring ropes that were stretched too tight and that mostly tore off his ear when he went for a signature hangman spot between the ropes. Vader widely held to that rationale, claiming little to no responsibility for the accident.
Later on, however, Vader watched video footage of the match and seems to have changed his tune. He noted a point when he grabbed the side of Foley’s head and it sure looked like he tore the ear loose. To be fair, the ropes spot and Vader’s clubbing blows leading up to that point were surely major factors, it seems that Vader, rather than going out of his way to protect Foley, may have actually inflicted the final damage on him in that match.
6 6. Bobby Roode Wasn’t Trying At The End Of His TNA Run
Bobby Roode rose to international acclaim for wrestling fans via his work with TNA. Amidst his tenure, he rose from a mid-card and tag team guy to a bona fide main event talent and world champion. However, after over a decade with the company, he lost a bit of his fire before ultimately leaving to sign on with WWE, where he starred for NXT before debuting on the SmackDown roster.
In the heat of his NXT run, Roode credited NXT for reigniting his passion for the business, not so subtly confessing that he had burned out on TNA and wasn’t putting his best effort forward in his latter days with the company. This is perfectly understandable, but still a bit of a revelation for a guy widely regarded as one of the hardest workers in the business.
5 5. Why Steve Austin Took His Ball And Went Home
Listen to the Steve Austin Show podcast, or watch the documentary WWE released about Steve Austin a few years back, and you’ll walk away with the distinct impression that for all of his career and for all of his travels in the wrestling business, the guy only has one big mistake he feels responsible for and that he looks back on with regret.
The issue came up in 2002 when Austin’s personal issues with alcoholism, marital strife, and insecurity caught up to him and aligned with WWE asking him to job to Brock Lesnar on Raw with no build. While you can tell Austin still didn’t like the creative on Lesnar beating him without telling a proper story and collecting a PPV payday, The Texas Rattlesnake also cops to handling the situation poorly in making the least professional choice possible by walking out on WWE rather than working through the disagreement.
4 4. Sean Waltman's Domestic Incedent
Sean Waltman had his share of pitfalls and mistakes that he cops to throughout his life and career. These matters include periods of substance, an unhealthy relationship with Chyna, and a number of times when he didn’t treat his colleagues particularly well. Through all of these issues, however, the one that seems to hit him personally the most is his domestic incident with his girlfriend (at the time) Alicia Webb, who was known as Ryan Shamrock in the Attitude Era. When the situation escalated to physicality, Waltman claims he was so overcome with guilt that he almost committed a tragic act.
"I always told myself that I would die before I would hit a woman. So when I did that, I was overcome with guilt and shame. I had no tools to handle it," said Waltman. "It was the darkest moment of my life, or one of them, to get me to do that. It was a lot of build up that I didn't know how to deal with."
3 3. Jerry Lawler Intentionally Broke Paul Heyman’s Jaw
Wrestling fans under the age of 20 know Jerry Lawler almost exclusively as the legendary, corny joke spinning, dirty old man announcer. For decades before he arrived at that role, The King was not only a wrestler but one of the top businessmen in Memphis wrestling who co-booked one of the territories with the greatest longevity in the face of WWE and the NWA Mid-Atlantic taking off on a national level. As both its top creative mind and its top in ring star, Lawler ran Memphis wrestling and crossed paths with more than a few famous wrestling stars long before they reached the apex of their fame or talent.
One of those talents was manager Paul Heyman, who Lawler booked into a Scaffold Match—an infamous gimmick that entailed the winner knocking the loser off of an imposing steel structure. Heyman reportedly refused to take the bump that the match was centered around him absorbing, thus forcing Lawler to back pedal in booking.
Lawler would punch Heyman during a show and legitimately break his jaw. For years this was passed off as an accident, though one person in the know suspected may not have actually been so accidental. Years later on WWE’s Legends of Wrestling panel discussion show, Lawler revealed that he did in fact break Heyman’s jaw intentionally. Interestingly, when Heyman responded in an interview with ugo.com, he expressed little surprise, though he did take time to insult Lawler’s integrity claiming he took liberties with a lot of people. He went on to suggest he hadn’t thought about Lawler in years, whereas Heyman didn’t have the time of day for Lawler.
2 2. Bret Hart Cheated On His Wife Throughout His Wrestling Career
In his book Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Bret Hart exposed a number of wrestlers’ vices and shortcomings as addicts, alcoholics, or all around jerks to their peers or to fans. While he generally seems to hold a higher opinion of how he conducted himself, he does cop to having one area in which he was far from ethical. Hart was married when he rose to fame with WWE, but was nonetheless slept with quite a few women on the road.
From Hart’s account, it’s clear his marriage wasn’t a happy one, only made tougher by life on the road as a WWE star. The time away both deepened rifts between him and his spouse, and offered all manner of opportunities for him to cheat on her.
1 1. Daniel Bryan Withheld Seizures From WWE
Daniel Bryan is one of the most popular wrestling stars to emerge in the past decade, and fairly unique in that he seems to have cultivated the highest level of respect from fans, his colleagues, and management. These successes made it a tougher pill to swallow when Bryan had to retire early. Though there are rumors, and he’s spoken in a few interviews about now wanting to stage a comeback, his prospects in WWE don’t look now based on his history of head injuries.
At his lowest point, Bryan has now copped to having had seizures and withholding that information from WWE (not to mention insisting that his wife Brie Bella do the same). The series of events suggests Bryan not only faced serious issues, but wanted so badly to wrestle that he exposed himself to addition, potentially life threatening risks. Bryan has since confessed that not saying anything was his biggest mistake. He suggests that with proper treatment, his issues may not have grown as serious, and he offers that advice to other athletes now.
In his visit to Edge and Christian’s podcast, Bryan advised that being kept out of their chosen sport or endeavor in the short term is better than risking more permanent injury and the premature ending of a career, if not a life.
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