Most fans know by now that pro wrestling can be a political arena, where backstage alliances make or break a potential superstar’s career in an instant. Given these tumultuous political conditions, when a wrestler leaves the industry, there is often some sort of drama at play in what made company executives get so upset with them. There are plenty of reasons a superstar can fall out of favor with higher ups, including poor performances in the ring or their characters not gelling with the grand scheme of the business at the time, but the more interesting cases are often those where wrestlers managed to totally self-sabotage and ruin their chances at a prolonged career without anyone else getting involved in the slightest.
In order to make a name for one’s self in the wrestling industry, a potential superstar needs a number of skills that extend far beyond their abilities in the ring. One of the most important qualities of a top WWE performer in particular is their ability to get along with the other wrestlers already working for WWE and do what is expected of a person working for a company that represents more than six decades as the forefront of the industry. Wrestlers who have been able to do business in a respectable manner have no one to blame but themselves when WWE turned their backs on them, and the situation often became even clearer as the rest of the wrestling industry gradually did the same. Keep reading to learn which superstars we’re talking about with this list of 15 pro wrestlers who destroyed their own careers.
15 Ken Kennedy
There was a brief point in time where Mr. Kennedy was so good at boastfully introducing himself that many fans and WWE executives alike were genuinely considering the possibility of making him the future of the industry. There is no greater boon in the wrestling business than being connected to the McMahon family and all rumors pointed towards Kennedy as the main benefactor from the long-running Vince McMahon illegitimate child angle that ultimately was bestowed upon Hornswoggle some years after Kennedy botched his chances at the role. Kennedy ruined his opportunity by repeatedly working unsafe in the ring, or at least that’s the side of the story told by Randy Orton and John Cena in their complaints to McMahon himself. Kennedy argues they were bullies who had it out to him from the start, threatened by the fact he might usurp their place in WWE. History would side with WWE, though, considering Kennedy would repeat his bridge burning behavior in TNA when he was fired from that company for failing to comply with a drug test.
14 Jake Roberts
His current reputation as one of the greatest minds in the wrestling business notwithstanding, Jake “The Snake” Roberts had dozens of opportunities to become something even bigger in the wrestling industry had he not let his personal demons get in the way. Jake squandered his talents throughout his entire career through his drinking and substance issues and there are a few incidents in particular that stand out as the worst examples of this repeat behavior. Both times Roberts departed WWE, it was related to him having been offered positions backstage that he ultimately decided not to take. The first time he was willing to slow down in the ring and become a writer, only for Vince McMahon to take the offer off the table amidst Pat Patterson’s legal troubles during the 1992 sex scandal. Jake was betrayed Vince would lie to him about a promotion like that and left the company in a rage rather than wait for the scandal to blow over and give Vince time to reconsider. Jake must have had a change of heart four years later when he made his return, as this time WWE suggested he step out of the ring and start writing, but this time Jake said he wanted to keep wrestling and quit rather than stop doing so. These are only two stories and yet they amount to more than enough proof Jake regularly acted self-destructively whenever he broached the subject of furthering his career.
Certain wrestlers are born with such silver spoons that they seriously have to screw up in order to blow their chances at success and few superstars fit the bill in this regard better than Afa, Jr., better known as Manu. The reason we point out Manu’s real name is that he is the son of WWE Hall of Famer and Wild Samoan, Afa, and thus had potential to earn a push almost immediately upon entering WWE. Unfortunately for him, he ruined his chances out of the gate by almost immediately violating WWE’s Wellness Policy in March 2008. Manu returned to WWE in September of that year and started his ascent up the card, only for his rise to be ablated less than six months later when he was fired in February of 2009. Randy Orton in particular claimed that Manu acted entitled to stardom and had serious attitude issues, refusing to “pay his dues” to the industry and expecting to get treated like a star from the start. Considering some of Orton’s past behavior, this is either hypocritical or extremely telling of just how bad Manu’s actions behind the scenes must have been to get him essentially blackballed.
12 Sim Snuka
Such is the nature of Sim Snuka’s infamous inability to live up to his family name that he was more successful prior to acknowledging it on screen, when he was Deuce, one half of the WWE World Tag Team Championship winning duo Deuce ‘n Domino. The pair were 1950s inspired Greasers, accompanied to the ring by their gorgeous manager, Cherry. Despite their championship glory, the two were never able to become particularly successful in WWE and their stars didn’t shine any brighter when they went solo. Domino practically became a jobber and Deuce started calling himself Sim Snuka, the only member of Legacy even less memorable than Manu. Sim’s exploits in Legacy made him forgettable, but it was his WrestleMania XXV botch that ruined his career, when he nearly injured The Undertaker by failing to catch a suicide dive while masquerading as a cameraperson. Snuka somehow held on to his job a short while after the incident, but never again appeared on television and was fired two months later.
11 Scott Steiner
With an infamously uncontrollable mouth like Scott Steiner’s, it’s amazing Big Poppa Pump was ever able to carve out the legacy that he was. For decades, Steiner was able to for the most part keep his mouth shut while he and his brother Rick revolutionized tag team wrestling inside the ring, turning them both into two of WCW’s biggest stars while they did so. Scott shined as a solo star once the duo broke up, although it was at the same time he started getting himself into the trouble by espousing some of his more combative thoughts into live microphones. Somehow, WWE hired Steiner when WCW went out of business regardless of his reputation, resulting in a terribly booked feud against Triple H and two particularly awful Pay-Per-View matches in early 2003. If that didn’t kill Steiner’s career outright, he put the nail in his own coffin when he made comments during an interview arguing Triple H and Stephanie McMahon were going to destroy WWE and that Stephanie had already destroyed his career by being responsible for his time in WWE. More rational people would probably argue Steiner did plenty to ruin his reputation on his own.
10 Verne Gagne
Verne Gagne is one of the most self-sufficient, self-made men in wrestling history, with a resume that at times may have even matched Vince McMahon himself. Considering Gagne founded and dominated the AWA, one of the most successful and prestigious wrestling companies in America, for nearly three decades, many fans might not realize just how badly Gagne imploded in his later years. While Gagne deserves credit for the first two and half or so decades of his promotion’s success, as he is almost solely responsible for his company’s fortunes so drastically turning around the way they did. Gagne’s biggest issues were an inability to keep up with a changing business, refusing to push Hulk Hogan in the early ‘80s and then choosing to push his son-in-law Larry Zbyszko during the early ‘90s, a move that ultimately drove him completely out of business. The worst thing about Gagne’s career nosedive is that he reportedly had the opportunity to save himself by selling out to Ted Turner, who promised to absorb Gagne’s debts and promote him to a figurehead role in WCW. Gagne’s hubris demanded he retain full control of his empire, though, and it ultimately pushed him out of the wrestling business entirely.
9 Sid Vicious
The monstrous and imposing Sid Vicious is a man who looks cut out of Vince McMahon’s dreams and therefore he’s received more than his fair shots at becoming a legend within the wrestling industry. Even with as big as the Sid legacy was able to become, the so-called Master and Ruler of the World could have been an even bigger deal had he not sabotaged himself at several key points early in his career when his momentum was at its highest. Sid’s star first shone in WCW as one of The Four Horsemen, at which point he was quickly stolen to become a top star in WWE. After main eventing WrestleMania VIII against Hulk Hogan, Sid failed a drug test and chose to temporarily leave the business to play softball. He eventually returned to WCW, only to get into a real fight with Arn Anderson, attacking him with scissors and getting fired for the second time in a year over the incident. Sid’s fortunes ultimately recovered, but there’s no saying how big of a star he could have been if he stayed with either company when he was at his earliest peak.
8 Paul Roma
Every industry has an elite club that all of the people who work in the industry wish they were a member of. In pro wrestling, that club is The Four Horsemen and there’s absolutely no question about who the least worthy member of the club was: Paul Roma. Roma was a career midcarder who was moderately successful in the tag team divisions of both WWE and WCW, but he was never talented or charismatic enough to standout as a solo star. Despite this, WCW rolled the dice and gave Roma a shot in mid-1993, a move that has since been criticized by Horsemen staples Ric Flair and Arn Anderson, amongst dozens of other industry insiders. As though dragging down the greatest legacy in wrestling wasn’t bad enough, Roma made things even worse for himself when he refused to cooperate with Alex Wright at Superbrawl V, dominating a match he was supposed to lose and make Wright look good in doing so. Roma continued sabotaging his career years later, speaking out against Triple H and claiming The Game never could have succeeded not for his relationship with Stephanie McMahon.
7 Daniel Puder
All of the wrestlers on this list got here by wrecking their chances at continued employment in the wrestling industry and yet Puder stands out as managing to do so faster than anyone else even came close. Puder may well have ruined his career before it even started, which it did when he won the 2004 Tough Enough $1,000,000 Challenge. En route to his victory, Puder participated in a SmackDown segment with Kurt Angle where he legitimately came near breaking the Olympian’s arm with a kimura lock. The segment was completely unscripted, with the planned idea having been for Angle to simply best one of Puder’s fellow contestants in a simple amateur wrestling display. By acting out and trying to make himself the star, Puder actually stained his reputation and made himself look extremely untrustworthy and disrespectful of the rules WWE superstars need to follow. Puder was publicly shamed for his actions during the 2005 Royal Rumble, when Hardcore Holly, Chris Benoit, and Eddie Guerrero acted rough with him in the ring prior to his elimination. Puder made very few further appearances with WWE and more or less left wrestling when he was fired in September of 2005.
6 Ludvig Borga
As noble as the fight for a better environment may be, Ludvig Borga never quite endeared himself to WWE fans, nor apparently did he make any friends backstage during his brief stay with the company. The Finnish environmentalist was a big deal upon his arrival in the summer of 1993 and yet he would fizzle out only about six months later after tepid feuds against Lex Luger and Tatanka. More damning than the feuds failing to take off was Borga’s attitude backstage, which even after Borga’s suicide was described by Jim Ross as “obnoxious” and “a bully.” Obviously, neither of these behaviors are the sort of things that endear a person to a foreign locker room and Borga was met with hostility his entire career as a result. Lucky for him, these attitudes are completely welcome in politics around the world and that’s how he later became a member of Finnish Parliament in 2003.
There are plenty of people in and out of the wrestling industry who have been arguing Raven was one of the most underrated wrestlers of the Attitude Era and that he could have been a much bigger star for WWE than he was had the company better utilized his talents. This may be true, albeit the fact remains Raven himself would admit he was somewhat complicit in the way Vince McMahon and other WWE executives viewed him. During his first WWE tenure, Raven was known as Johnny Polo and more importantly he was a good friend of Shane McMahon. Raven was a heavy partier throughout all parts of his life and Shane would join him during his late night raves, infuriating Shane’s father and Raven’s boss. Despite this, Vince McMahon respected Raven’s talents and offered him a lucrative backstage job as a producer in late 1994. Raven wanted to wrestle, though, so he walked out on Vince to become one of the preeminent legends of ECW. Although Raven was able to carve his niche and become a big name in his own right, Vince McMahon never forgot these earlier interactions and infamously sealed Raven’s fate with a question the day he learned someone had welcomed him back to the company—“who the f*** hired Raven?”
4 Buff Bagwell
WCW gets a lot of flak for their refusal to make new stars, although another way to look at it may be that the stars they did try to make were wrestlers like Buff Bagwell. Bagwell wasn’t without his talents in the ring and he proved it early on in a series of moderately popular tag teams with names like The Patriot, Too Cold Scorpio, and Scotty Riggs. Bagwell broke away from Riggs to join the nWo in 1996, ultimately managing to standout due to his obnoxious behavior and relative charisma compared to the rest of the nWo B-Team. Bagwell wasn’t quite talented enough to stand on his own, though, and his fortunes started waning as soon as the nWo broke up. Once WCW went under and Bagwell’s contract was absorbed by WWE, he wound up being one of the first casualties of the Invasion after a particularly horrible match against Booker T ended with Bagwell receiving the blame for the encounter being such a bomb. Rumors conflict on whether or not Bagwell’s mother actually called Jim Ross later that week on her son’s behalf when he was sick, but the match alone was enough to end Bagwell’s prospects in WWE and perhaps even the wrestling business at large.
Paige is still in the process of destroying her career as this article is being written and yet things are already looking bad enough that we feel confident in keeping her on the list. Unlike the many women who WWE has treated poorly, Paige was one of the fastest rising women in modern history, going from a long-running NXT Women’s Championship reign to a similarly impressive turn with the Divas Championship the day she was promoted to the main WWE roster. Paige’s good fortunes turned in August of 2016, when she was suspended for violating WWE’s Wellness Policy. Before she even made her return, Paige violated the Policy for a second time in October and later took to the internet to complain about her suspension thus making things significantly worse for her. WWE immediately gave a public response saying Paige was suspended for using illegal substances and if that turns out true, things don’t look good about her making a WWE comeback any time soon—maybe ever.
2 CM Punk
By dropping a bombshell, CM Punk seemed poised to capitalize on a decade of experience and boundless potential to become the biggest superstar in WWE. Things didn’t exactly pan out for him, with Triple H and Kevin Nash cutting him off at the legs when he was at his hottest. Punk recovered to achieve the longest WWE World Championship reign of the modern era and yet he was never quite happy with certain top WWE executives. Specifically, Punk never got over what Triple H did to him during the Summer of Punk and regularly spoke out against his boss during interviews (and pretty much any other time he had the chance). Punk also had a laundry list of complaints about WWE policies in general, most notably their practices dealing with injured employees and allegedly forcing Punk back to work earlier than he was ready on a routine basis. Despite what hell WWE may have put Punk through, it was his choice to walk out of the company in early 2014 and go public with his problems rather than deal with them professionally and behind closed doors. For this reason, Punk can be said to have self-sabotaged just as badly as anyone on this list, although his repeated boasts that he’s proud of the way he did things and has no intention of returning to wrestling serve as a pretty clear sign he’s fine with having done so.
If someone doesn’t feel as though they’re being paid properly for their work, it makes sense that they would quit their job and look for employment someplace that was willing to compensate them more fairly. This is why Ryback left WWE in 2016 and fair though his complaints were, he made the same error as CM Punk in making them far too publicly instead of dealing with his employer directly, burning a bridge while doing so. Ryback left WWE more or less by choice, feeling it was unfair he didn’t get paid as much as other superstars with better win-loss records than his, especially considering the wrestlers themselves didn’t exactly decide those wins and losses. Ryback has continued to get work on the independent scene, but his mainstream prospects are looking pretty dim and chances are he’s yet another casualty that ruined his own career by refusing to handle business in a professional manner.