When confronted with the old, tired line that professional wrestling is fake, the proper response is “So are movies and TV shows, but they’re still entertaining.” Indeed, professional wrestlers can be compared to film actors in more ways than one. In pretty much any entertainment medium that involves putting on a show for the audience, the people involved are basically required to be a certain character for the camera. And often, it’s nothing like who they are in real life.
Though professional wrestlers used to be encouraged and even pressured to let the escapism bleed into their real lives, the curtain has since been thoroughly lifted. However, I’m pretty sure when the professional wrestling industry did decide it was okay with wrestlers being their normal selves in real life, they didn’t anticipate that dedicated fans would know as much as we do about what happens backstage. And it’s brought a whole new light to some of the most famous stars in the industry.
Turns out some of the most dedicated, moral good guys in the ring can be power hungry jerks backstage. And even some of the huge, monstrous villains can be nothing but big sweethearts. Or on the flipside, they might just turn out to be even worse in real life somehow. If you haven’t noticed from the title, we’re focusing on the more negative aspect of this. Why? Because stories about bad people are more interesting. Haven’t you ever watched the news?
All joking aside, let’s get right into it with these 15 wrestlers who have bad reputations backstage.
15 Hulk Hogan
If you didn’t know right away Hulk Hogan was going to be on the list, you probably don’t know much about the backstage scene in professional wrestling, which means you’re in for a treat. And/or about to have your childhood ruined.
Hulk Hogan was pretty much the lone man at the top of the mountain in the 80s and early 90s during the biggest boom period in professional wrestling. But it turns out there’s many interesting stories about how he stayed at the top for so long. You see, once you get to a certain popularity level and your ability to draw an audience becomes valuable to a company, they start having to listening to whatever you say. And Hogan abused this fact to almost petty degree to make sure he stayed the top dog.
Anytime the creative departments in WWE or WCW suggested a program for Hogan, especially if it involved him putting over another talent, he nixed it for whatever he felt like doing. And on multiple occasions, in particular with Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels, he would initially agree to put over other wrestlers under very certain conditions, but then when the moment came, he’d back down and refuse. It eventually got to a point where other wrestlers would refuse to work with him because they didn’t trust him to do business the right way.
14 CM Punk
In the case of Hulk Hogan, wrestlers can tick each other off backstage simply by being too big control freaks. Other times, it’s just certain personalities that don’t mesh well. The biggest example of the latter has got to be CM Punk. Ever since he re-signed with WWE after the “Pipe Bomb” promo, he’s been a very controversial figure in the wrestling industry.
For every guy like Kofi Kingston or Big E who have nothing but respect for Punk, especially after he stood up to management and left the company, there are others like Hornswoggle and The Miz who pretty much only have one word for him. Hint: it rhymes with lick. As far as anyone can tell, the story with CM Punk is that he’ll be nice to you as long as you’re nice to him, but the problem with that is that it doesn’t take much to set him off on you.
13 Sin Cara
Sin Cara has actually been portrayed by two different wrestlers, so to clarify, we’re talking about the second Sin Cara, Hunico. The first Sin Cara was infamous for botching in the ring, but the second became infamous backstage. For what you ask? Fighting other wrestlers for real. So much that one of the internet wrestling community’s favorite jokes is his undefeated streak in backstage fights.
Stories have gotten out about backstage confrontations with Sheamus, Simon Gotch, most recently Chris Jericho, and apparently at least two other people, since his claimed record is 5-0. And to let that sink in even further, let’s remind everyone that Chris Jericho once beat Goldberg in a backstage fight. Sin Cara is not someone you want to mess with. Although supposedly, his fellow wrestlers see him as someone looking for a fight constantly. He might be a damn good fighter, but it still doesn’t reflect well on him.
12 Bob Holly
Bob Holly is a longtime veteran of the professional wrestling business. And while he’s a perfectly decent wrestler in the ring, he never quite had that charisma or pep in his step to rise to the main event. And yet we’re still talking about him to this day, mostly because of his antics backstage. Almost every tight knit group of people, especially athletic locker rooms, engage in hazing the rookies, but Bob Holly took it to new levels.
Not only did Holly engage in harsh backstage hazing much like some other wrestlers (we know who you’re thinking about and oh, we’ll get to him), Holly took it inside the ring as well. Pretty much anytime he was in the ring with a rookie, he worked very stiff and sometimes sabotaged moves which led to many of his opponents getting legitimately hurt or just looking foolish. And he was so infamous for it, that even when it was just an accident, like the Brock Lesnar incident, fans just assumed he was being a jerk.
Goldberg is possibly the biggest example of the fact that you don’t need to actually have very much wrestling talent to be a huge superstar. He became very famous for a legendary undefeated streak in singles matches in WCW, but everyone likes to forget they were mostly 30 second squash matches and that he was far clumsier in a match that went any longer or was supposed to be competitive. And apparently, he wasn’t a nice person to be around backstage either.
Goldberg never got along with people in the locker room. In WCW, he was known to let his success get to his head and he was seen as arrogant. When WCW folded and he came to WWE in 2003, he was seemingly better about being humble, but he started to just flat out hate wrestling. And so, the unpleasantness continued, notably resulting in the fight with Chris Jericho we mentioned earlier.
10 The Ultimate Warrior
For as much as people dog on Hulk Hogan for being a selfish backstage politician, for the most part he at least kept it professional. The same cannot be said for the man who once looked primed to replace him, The Ultimate Warrior. You can talk to pretty much anybody from the 80s and 90s WWE, and chances are good that Warrior pissed them right off at some point.
From holding up the company for more money and less work, working stiff and getting into real fights over it, trash talking Rick Rude and getting into ANOTHER fight, and not least speaking ill of the dead, Warrior’s backstage career is pretty much a crash course in what not to do to keep a healthy relationship with your co-workers. He was so hated backstage, WWE famously released a documentary about him called “The Self Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior”.
Starting with the brand split, women’s wrestlers in WWE were referred to as Divas, and it stayed that way until WrestleMania 32. Part of the reason they went back to just calling them women was because of fan backlash at how mistreated the women’s division was, and calling them Divas was seen as the biggest example. But if any one female wrestler in WWE history earned the title of “diva”, it was Melina.
Everyone in the female locker room absolutely hated Melina, and she even pissed off much of the male locker room, including The Undertaker, which is when you know you’re in deep trouble. This was mostly because she talked smack about almost everyone and even got into fights with some of them. The list includes Mickie James, Angelina Love, Sharmell, Candice Michelle, and Lita. Melina in WWE is practically the definition of tactlessness and not knowing your place in the hierarchy.
8 The Kliq
For those that don’t know, The Kliq was a group of close friends backstage, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, X-Pac, and Triple H, who helped support each other’s careers. However, they started getting a little too popular for their own good, and much like Hulk Hogan, started abusing their influence to push themselves in the company. And while some of the results of this were great, especially Michaels and Razor Ramon’s ground-breaking ladder matches, they mostly just ended up pissing off the rest of the locker room.
They used their influence many times out of a simple refusal to lose, which stalled or outright killed many other wrestlers’ careers. And their politicking led to the near death of WWE from The Montreal Screwjob and the actual death of WCW when Hall and Nash’s creative control started getting out of control, with a little help from Hulk Hogan. By the turn of the century, almost nobody could stand working with them anymore, though Michaels in particular did wonders to repair his reputation later in his career.
7 Triple H
Yes, he’s technically on here twice. His antics with The Kliq got on everyone’s nerves, but Triple H in particular didn’t let The Kliq effectively breaking up stop him from exercising way too much influence with management and creative. There’s a reason we talk about Triple H a lot here at TheSportster. While he seemingly behaved himself well enough for a few years around the turn of the century, after that came a period of dominance fans casually refer to as “The Reign of Terror”.
Triple H used his influence not only to keep himself at the main event, almost always as the champion, he often outright vetoed what creative wanted to do at almost every turn. Many wrestlers were buried, including Rob Van Dam, Booker T, and Randy Orton, most of whom took many years to regain their momentum. And the worst part is that his influence meant most wrestlers couldn’t call him out on it. The New Age Outlaws said it best: “Whipping his ass would get me fired”.
6 John Cena
John Cena has been the face that runs the place pretty much for the past decade. He generally has a better reputation than most top stars before him, and has even attained a mainstream celebrity status not really seen since Hulk Hogan. But he isn’t totally clean either. Many wrestlers have nothing but good things to say about him, but there’s still a few sins worth mentioning.
Cena’s backstage reputation is marred by two major incidents of his backstage influence ruining careers. The one more people are aware of is when he pretty much single-handedly changed the finish of Team WWE vs. The Nexus at SummerSlam 2010, which ended up completely killing The Nexus’s momentum and is arguably the sole reason Wade Barrett never became WWE Champion. But the worse story is his supposed crusade against Alex Riley. Some WWE alumni, Ryback in particular, accuse Cena of convincing management to kill off Riley’s momentum because he saw him as a threat to his top spot in the main event.
5 Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
It turns out it’s never too soon to get a bad reputation backstage. Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens might be two of the most popular wrestlers in WWE right now, but back when they were El Generico and Kevin Steen in Ring of Honor, they had a reputation as two people you instantly fall in love with, at least until you actually have to work with them.
According to Jim Cornette, when Gabe Sapoloksy was the booker for Ring of Honor, he told his successor “you will spend the majority of your time dealing with Kevin Steen and El Generico, and their various issues and ideas and problems and complaints”. And supposedly, every booker since him while the two were with the company agreed. The two were close friends who supported each other, not unlike The Kliq, but in this case, they didn’t seem overly concerned with marketing themselves. They just enjoyed what they did and wanted to do it their own way, which is still enough to get on the nerves of management.
4 Lex Luger
When wrestlers get pushed to the moon right out of the gate, they have a tendency to get on the nerves of the locker room. One reason for this is that it seems unfair from other’s perspectives that this new guy is getting all the attention. But another reason is that it often leads to inflated egos. Lex Luger is commonly cited as the prime example of this.
Luger got right on everyone’s nerves for his immediate push and his ego in his first run with WCW, notably getting very heated with Sting in particular. When he came to WWE, the story was pretty much the same, except you can add in stories about fooling around with Miss Elizabeth after her nasty breakup with Randy Savage. Like Shawn Michaels, he found religion and reformed himself, and is generally seen in a more positive light nowadays.
3 The Miz
The Miz is an interesting character backstage in WWE. It’s hard to name someone else in wrestling history who has garnered more heat on himself simply for being obnoxious and clueless. Many wrestlers have gone on record saying they outright hate him, and he’s done a number of things to piss people off about him backstage.
One of the most famous incidents was that time he got kicked out of the locker room. Miz was already enduring some harsh bullying from certain wrestlers, but he made an unnecessary enemy when he ate chicken over Chris Benoit’s bag and spilled crumbs on and in it. This led to him being kicked out of the locker room for a time and having to change in the restrooms to his embarrassment. There was also that time he dropped R-Truth, which didn’t help his image with his fellow wrestlers.
2 Stone Cold Steve Austin
Yep. Not even Stone Cold was always a pleasant guy to work with. At this point, The Rock is the only top guy in WWE history who’s been good about not giving people reasons to hate him.
Stone Cold Steve Austin made his way to the top of the pile at one of the most profitable times in WWE history; The Attitude Era. This also effectively meant he helped save the WWE from extinction in the Monday Night War, and indeed he’s still one of the most loved wrestlers ever. But they’re not kidding when they say everyone has at least a few skulls in their closet.
Steve Austin was a little stubborn when told to do something he wasn’t a fan of. He notably refused to work with Jeff Jarrett, Brock Lesnar, and Hulk Hogan for various reasons. But what really tarnishes his reputation was the fact that he took his frustrations as far as walking out on the company, not once, but twice. You can argue about whether his refusals were justified, but quitting on the company when you don’t get your way never looks good.
You can put your keyboards away, JBL made the list. John Bradshaw Layfield fought through tough competition from Bob Holly to earn the title of the most infamous backstage bully in WWE history. The internet is filled with stories of JBL reportedly bulling wrestlers and personnel backstage. Just to give you a taste of the list: Justin Roberts, Mark Henry, The Blue Meanie, Shawn Daivari, Renee Dupree, The Miz, The Hardys, and whoa, it’s a long list.
To be honest, I wasn’t going to make this the grand finale until recent speculation came out. Personalities in the wrestling world like Dave Meltzer have suggested that yet another instance of bullying from JBL may be behind announcer Mauro Ranallo’s absence from WWE television and the fact that it doesn’t seem like he’s coming back. Speculation is that JBL bullied him both for his bipolar disorder and out of jealousy. It may not be confirmed, but the theories are widespread enough that #firejbl started trending on Twitter.
Fans have already put up with enough bullying stories from JBL, but if this one turns out to have truth, it will almost certainly be the straw that broke the camel’s back.