There are a few ways to find yourself blackballed from being mentioned on WWE programming: criminal charges or convictions, public meltdowns, drug abuse, slinging mud about the promotion or the McMahon family, physically attacking Vince McMahon, and trying to one-up the WWE in a business deal. These themes seem to be the most common for people who are currently persona non grata with the leader in sports entertainment.
But wrestling is a volatile business. The performer ignored for decades may get signed to a Legends contract, or if the two sides believe they can make big money with one another, bygones can be made bygones very quickly. And even though WWE programming has gotten edgier than it was during the heart of the PG Era, the WWE still doesn’t recognize some performers whose work was much edgier than their counterparts, even during the adult-themed Attitude Era. And WWE has a history of ignoring the contributions of its performers when it’s expedient for the promotion, conducting high-profile feuds with Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley, and even The Rock, on occasion. (However, none of those guys make the list, since they’re currently in the good graces of the company.)
So keeping in mind that wrestling is a ‘never-say-never’ business, here are 15 wrestlers the WWE tries to bury in their past.
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15 AJ Lee
While her husband checks in much higher on this list, the WWE isn’t going to be bringing a whole lot of attention to AJ Lee’s stellar career, either. Lee had phenomenal buns--woops, I mean runs--at the top of WWE’s women’s division, including holding the Divas title on multiple occasions. A couple of things hurt her: she came in near the end of the Divas division. By the time she dropped the title to Paige, the WWE was moving toward more athletic women who were putting on competitive matches, just like the male superstars.
And, of course, there’s the fact that she left the WWE after her husband, CM Punk, quit the company. Her relationship with Punk basically assures that Lee will be persona non grata in the WWE for the foreseeable future. If her relationship with Punk changes, would that be an olive branch of sorts? Only time will tell.
14 Jeff Jarrett
It’s a good thing that Double J grew up as the son of a wrestling promoter. Otherwise he’d be completely out of the business rather than beginning his fourth comeback as a major player once again at TNA. During the Attitude Era, Jarrett famously held up WWE owner Vince McMahon for his months' payoff check at a pay-per-view where JJ was supposed to drop the Intercontinental title to Chyna. Jarrett was heading to WCW and was afraid McMahon would stiff him during the Monday Night Wars.
Jarrett got his payoff, but he made an enemy. A few years later when WWE bought WCW for a pittance, guess what multiple-time world champion was never even considered for a job? That’s J-E-Double-F, ha-ha! J-A-Double-R-E-Double-T.
Kevin Wacholz, also known as Kevin Kelly--no, not the announcer for Ring of Honor--started in the wrestling business as a long-haired potential replacement for Hulk Hogan in Verne Gagne’s AWA. A decade later, he resurfaced in the WWE, wearing the now-familiar orange jumpsuit. Nailz lost his temper at Vince McMahon, supposedly over payoffs, and a physical altercation ensued, with Nailz knocking Vince down and choking him unconscious.
Nailz was subsequently released by the WWE, and testified against the promotion in the 1994 steroid trial that nearly drove McMahon out of business. Nailz claimed Vince gave him steroids, and also that McMahon made a pass at him. His sworn testimony included the words “I hate Vince McMahon’s guts.” Safe to say the feeling is mutual.
12 Jacques Rougeau
The Rougeau family is legendary in Montreal, and after a career in the NWA and as a tag-team specialist, Jacques finally broke out in the WWE as a singles star for a couple of years, as the villainous Mountie. The Mountie was a big hit, capturing the Intercontinental title and feuding with high-profile stars like the Big Boss Man, Bret Hart and Rowdy Roddy Piper. But his singles success was short-lived. He stayed with the WWE, though, and won tag gold as The Quebecers.
But here’s the thing; after retiring back to his native Canada, Jacques--who had worked for the WWE for more than a decade--tried to promote wrestling for the competition, bringing in WCW to Quebec for the first time. Family and friends of Rougeau were incensed, and Vince McMahon reportedly felt betrayed by Rougeau’s actions.
11 The Original Sin Cara
The former Mistico was a legend in Mexico. He was well-built, athletic, and his in-ring work was compelling. With WWE focusing on reaching the wrestling market south of the border, signing one of the top Mexican wrestlers to a long-term contract was a big deal. But the newly-named Sin Cara was a botch machine from the beginning. At his first appearance on Raw, he mis-timed his entrance off of a trampoline and nearly landed on his head.
Things got worse from there. Sin Cara didn’t connect with American audiences, and Mexican fans weren’t seeing the same fire they’d come to expect from the beloved Mistico. His reputation as something of a diva was cemented when he tried to call off a match with Alberto Del Rio due to a dislocated finger. Del Rio roughed Sin Cara up, and the original wrestler who portrayed Sin Cara was quietly released soon after. The character remains in WWE, portrayed by Hunico, and no one associated with WWE ever mentions that there was another Sin Cara prior to the current one.
10 Teddy Hart
Teddy Hart--Edward ‘Teddy’ Annis in real life--was the youngest wrestler ever signed to a WWE contract. But attitude problems got him fired from his developmental deal, and things just seem to keep getting worse. He’s gotten fired from promotions like TNA and Mexico’s AAA because of his erratic behavior. His antics include shooting star presses from the top of a cage onto wrestlers outside the ring who weren’t expecting the move, as well as other oddball moves like taking his cat to the ring.
Teddy is the nephew of Bret Hart, and was a physically gifted performer. He’s also a headcase, as evidenced by a recent shoot interview he did with indie stars Chuck Taylor and Trent Barreta. Hart openly discussed many of his personal issues, including being accused of multiple counts of sexual assault, although those charges were dropped in June of 2016. Still, Teddy Hart carries far too much baggage, and the family-friendly WWE hopes no one remembers that he once graced their ring.
9 Superstar Billy Graham
The man who lifts barbell plates, eats T-bone steaks, and was sweeter than a German chocolate cake was ahead of his time with his gift of gab and colorful outfits. Glitz and glam had been staples of pro grappling since the days of Gorgeous George--no, not Randy Savage’s valet in WCW--but the Superstar eclipsed everyone with his tie-dyed trunks and shirts, and the largest arms in the world. Graham, who is in failing health, ought to be one of WWE’s elder statesmen.
But he’s never been afraid to take on Vince and company, testifying against the promotion in the 1994 steroid trial, as well as falsely accusing McMahon and the WWE of covering up child abuse. He was also critical of Linda McMahon’s senate bid in the 2000s. Even though the Superstar is on a Legends contract, relations between the two entities remain frosty.
It’s not just Chyna’s career as an adult actress that keeps WWE quiet about her. It’s not her multiple public breakdowns, either. And it’s not even the fact she slung mud about the promotion and Vince McMahon personally to every media outlet that would listen. It’s all of that, combined with the fact that she was on the losing end of a love triangle with the boss’s daughter that keeps WWE from recognizing her groundbreaking accomplishments in professional wrestling.
Chyna was the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble (twice!) and so far the first and only woman to hold a male singles title for WWE. But Triple H and Stephanie McMahon will be running WWE for years to come, and that means Chyna’s status as a legendary player from the Attitude Era will continue to be downplayed.
7 Pedro Morales
In the early days of the WWE, the promotion relied on ethnic champions turning back heel challengers. The Italians came out en masse to support Bruno Sammartino, but when Pedro Morales won the title from Ivan Koloff--just 21 days after the Russian Bear defeated Bruno for the title--Puerto Ricans, Hispanics, and Latinos absolutely packed the arenas. Pedro held the title for more than 1,000 days, but you never hear about his historic run as the first Hispanic world champion.
That’s because Morales has a case of advanced Parkinson’s disease, one of the same afflictions that bedevilled boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Morales’ tough style and the hard bumps he took in the ring likely contributed to the condition, and it’s this harsh reality that WWE would like to keep from its fans.
6 Jesse Ventura
Jesse Ventura may not have had time to bleed in the classic 1987 movie Predator, but he sure had time to sue the WWE for back royalties a few years later when he discovered the promotion had cheated him. A court rendered judgment for Ventura to the tune of more than $800,000--after which, Vince McMahon swore Ventura would never appear on WWE programming again. It also probably didn’t help that Ventura had tried to form a union among the wrestlers before being ratted out by Hulk Hogan.
That ban lasted until McMahon figured he could make money with Ventura as a special referee and commentator, at times. The two have worked together, with Ventura even providing color commentary on broadcasts for the ill-advised XFL. Still, you won’t see a lot of cheerleading for Ventura out of the McMahon camp.
5 CM Punk
The bold and brash CM Punk got a lot of mileage out of saying what he thought and letting the chips fall where they may. But things got ugly when Punk got burned out physically, mentally and emotionally, leading to one of the uglier splits in WWE history, with Punk essentially accusing the WWE’s doctor of malpractice. An ugly spat with Triple H didn’t help matters, either. As soon as he could, Punk left the company and hasn’t been back.
He left the "fake-fighting" world to try his hand in MMA, signing for big money with the UFC. But his career there got off to a rocky start due to repeated injuries, as well as suffering an embarrassing submission loss in his first fight. It was bad enough that a segment of one WWE match mimicked Punk’s fight almost perfectly, and Stephanie McMahon mocked Punk publicly the next time the WWE was in Chicago. Ouch.
4 Brian Pillman
Brian Pillman went from a largely vanilla babyface in WCW to the hottest free agent in 1990s wrestling for a time after crafting the Loose Cannon gimmick that saw Pillman make appearances in WCW, ECW, and WWE. In a complete 180 turn from his previous gimmicks, there didn’t seem to be a line that Pillman wouldn’t cross. He pulled a fork from his boot and attacked a planted fan in ECW, made Bobby “The Brain” Heenan drop the F-bomb on live TV for WCW, and took part in two incredibly shocking angles in WWE before his untimely death in 1997.
The “Pillman’s got a gun” angle was the first time a WWE superstar was shown pointing a (presumably) loaded firearm at another competitor, when Stone Cold Steve Austin attacked Pillman in the Loose Cannon’s home as part of an angle on Raw. He also ‘won’ Marlena (Terri Runnels) from Goldust and filmed some vignettes with her. Pillman’s wild angles and language mean his memory isn’t welcome in the more PG era of the WWE. Pillman died of a previously undiscovered heart ailment at the age of 35, never knowing that his success was part of the leading edge of the Attitude Era.
3 The Fabulous Moolah
There was a time when women who wanted to be professional wrestlers couldn’t be trained by anyone except Mary Lillian Ellison–otherwise known as the Fabulous Moolah. But multiple female wrestlers trained by Moolah have come forward to say that her ‘training’ and booking service was nothing more than a way to pimp out unsuspecting young women for sex with promoters or wrestlers. Moolah is also accused of having sex with many of her female trainees. And even more wrestlers have credible stories of Moolah skimming their paychecks, or even withholding funds completely in order to keep her stranglehold on women’s wrestling.
For people who only saw Moolah and Mae Young as a comedy act in the 1990s and 2000s, the real-life thuggishness of Moolah can be something of a surprise. Some still give Moolah the benefit of the doubt because she was physically abused by male wrestlers, including her husband, while she was trying to break into the business. As her actions come to light, more and more people are turned off by what they see, and the always image-conscious WWE distanced itself from Moolah during her last few years.
2 Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka
People remember Roddy Piper clobbering Jimmy Snuka with a coconut to the dome. What they forget is that the powerfully built Snuka was a huge draw for the WWE prior to the arrival of Hulk Hogan. But what most people never knew at all was that Snuka had been long suspected to have killed his girlfriend, Nancy Argentino, in a hotel room in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Snuka was never charged with the crime until late in his life.
In 2015, already ailing from the cancer that would eventually kill him, Snuka was charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, 32 years after Argentino was killed. A judge found Snuka mentally unfit to stand trial due to the toll of his illness, and the charges were dropped on Jan. 3, 2017. Twelve days later, Snuka passed away from stomach cancer. While he’s still a WWE Hall Of Famer, the promotion isn’t going out of its way to celebrate that connection, as they might with an athlete in better standing.
1 Chris Benoit
You know the story. Chris Benoit murdered his wife and child, and then killed himself, all on the same weekend, just as he was supposed to win the the ECW championship. A day later, the WWE aired a tearful goodbye to Benoit on a live episode of Raw, similarly to the occasions when Owen Hart and Eddie Guerrero died.
But even as the program was airing its portrayal of Benoit the superstar, authorities were uncovering darker secrets at the Benoit home. Once they concluded that Benoit killed his family and then hung himself from a piece of gym equipment, the WWE’s decision to air a show dedicated to Benoit looked like the ratings ploy it most certainly was. Embarrassed and shocked by Benoit’s actions, Vince McMahon and company have taken great pains to erase as much of Benoit’s wrestling legacy as possible.
That’s the list. Hit me on Twitter if you think I missed something: @bobbymathews.
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