Working with WWE is the highest level for someone in the professional wrestling business. Sure, there are other promotions that arguably represent better in ring work. If Austin Aries is to believed, there’s even the potential to make more money on the indies than in the WWE system if you’re a star of a certain caliber and play your cards right. Just the same, particularly at the higher levels, WWE pays more than most any other wrestling organization can on a consistent basis, and exposes a talent to a wider audience than any other wrestling promotion in the world is capable of. Earning a job with WWE, whether you’re a wrestler, a commentator, a writer, or other role is generally a sign of having attained success your field of choice.
Not every WWE story ends happily, and there have been quite a few guys let go over the years sooner than they would have wanted to wind up their WWE tenures. Whether they made single serious errors in judgment like when Nailz purportedly strangled Vince McMahon, or lingered around like JTG until it was clear the creative team would never have a real use for them, it makes sense that WWE would have to let some employees go. There are other firings on record, however, that make less obvious sense because they come across as arbitrary, abrupt, or like they’re blowing something small way out of proportion.
This article takes a look back at the company’s relatively recent history, and 15 separate WWE firings of wrestlers, on air personalities, and backstage employees that come across as having happened for ridiculous reasons.
15. Matt Hardy – Fired Because His Girlfriend Cheated On Him
The year was 2005 and two of the most iconic tag teams of the Attitude Era had split off. Edge, Christian, Matt Hardy, and Jeff Hardy were each singles wrestlers (Jeff with TNA) and real life friends behind the scenes. Things took a turn, however, when Matt left the road to recover from injury. During this time, his real life girlfriend Lita got closer to Edge, leading up to the point when Matt checked her text messages, only to discover Edge professing her love for her.
The details are murky about whether Edge and Lita actually had an affair, only hooked up once or twice, or just had a close bond or perhaps one-way infatuation. Regardless, Matt took it as cheating and was understandably furious. WWE management, in turn, worried about backstage dynamics if one wrestler earnestly wanted to beat up another. They made the call, and Matt was released for the safety of all parties involved, and because Edge was viewed as the more valuable commodity on the roster.
Fans rejected this decision of Matt getting fired because he’d been cheated on, and loudly booed both Edge and Lita until WWE had no choice but to give in to the heat and unite them as heels. Matt was ultimately allowed back and started a reality bending story with the two that stretched from summer into fall.
14. Jim Ross – Fired For Not Reining In Ric Flair
Jim Ross has had an up and down relationship with WWE, which has included being taken off TV and even off the payroll at various points based on Vince McMahon’s whims and how he felt about Ross’s southern drawl and his looks. 2013 saw a particularly arbitrary dismissal, though, when Ric Flair’s drunken antics cost Ross his job.
The issue came up at a panel discussion staged to promote the WWE 2K14 video game over SummerSlam weekend. Flair showed up acting intoxicated and generally not conducting himself very professionally. Ross purportedly got the heat for the incident for not reining in Flair’s behavior and taking charge of the discussion. To be fair, Ross was only working spots here and there for WWE at that point, rather than a full time commentary role, so his absence wasn’t as prominent as it might have been in other eras. Nonetheless, most fans agreed that Ross losing his job because Flair couldn’t behave himself was particularly absurd.
13. Alberto Del Rio – Fired For Slapping A Racist
Alberto Del Rio’s second departure from WWE wasn’t a surprise. The guy had been critical of the company before, he was largely squandered in his role, and word was that his relationship with Paige was garnering heat for the both of them. The first time Del Rio left, however, it came more out of the blue.
By most accounts, including the one reported by The Wrestling Observer Del Rio caught word that backstage employee who worked for WWE.com made a joke about how Del Rio ought to clean off his plate—a dig at people of Latino heritage. Del Rio proceeded to track the man down and slap him in the face.
While striking someone—especially a non-wrester—was understandably problematic, it certainly seems Del Rio was provoked and terminating a former world champion over the incident seemed awfully severe.
12. Writer Jimmy Jacobs – Fired For A Photo With The Bullet Club
Jimmy Jacobs had a long, successful career as an independent wrestler, who enjoyed particular notoriety in Ring of Honor. He left the indie scene in 2015, though to start his new job as a writer for WWE. While in that position, Chris Jericho in particular praised his work, citing on his podcast that he worked with Jacobs hands on to perfect his shtick about The List and prepare for his segments with Kevin Owens.
Jacobs wound up released from the company after he posted a photo of himself with members of The Bullet Club. This stable has had friction with WWE first because New Japan reportedly refused to sell the name to them, and then because of The Young Bucks monetizing the Too Sweet hand gesture popularized by the New World Order and The Kliq at large, which WWE now claims the intellectual property rights to.
It seems that Jacobs is pretty understanding about the release, despite the silly reasoning. Some have theorized that he knew he’d be released for the post and put it up for that reason; because he was ready to leave the company.
11. Daniel Bryan – Fired For Using A Choke
WWE offered The Nexus—the seven alumni of the original season of NXT—a unique debut on the main roster as the eight men stormed the ring in the middle of a John Cena-CM Punk match, and destroyed everything in sight. One of the more memorable images from the debut saw Daniel Bryan choking out ring announcer Justin Roberts with his own tie. Roberts has spoken about it candidly in the aftermath, explaining the choke was both real and unexpected, though he didn’t necessarily mind because he understood it was part of the show.
Bryan was fired for this choice that hadn’t been pre-approved and that reportedly violated an internal policy against certain realistic acts of violence like this kind of choking. Given how over Bryan was already getting, and that he purportedly was never warned of this restriction, the consensus was that WWE shouldn’t have let him go. Fortunately, WWE would end up rehiring him for a return at SummerSlam against the Nexus, and he would end up the iconic star we all remember.
10. Brad Maddox – Fired For A Relatively Tame House Show Promo
Brad Maddox spent quite a while in WWE’s developmental system, and was reportedly a favorite of Triple H, which earned him more opportunities than a man of his relatively small stature and limited skills might ordinarily get. He’s most famous for working a heel referee gimmick in favor of CM Punk, and his run to follow as an on-air authority figure.
Maddox was mostly a lower card heel who rarely made it on TV from there, leading up to a house show promo where he used unapproved language—specifically, the insult “cocky pricks.” While a better established star might have gotten off with a warning, the general opinion was that Maddox may have already had one foot out the door when he made this misstep. Still, it comes across as an over the top reaction for him to be fired for using language this benign.
9. Paul London – Fired For Smiling At The Wrong Time
Paul London is probably best known for two traits as a wrestler. First off, he’s an amazing athlete and was influential in getting aerial maneuvers like the Shooting Star Press over in mainstream wrestling. Secondly, he’s known to be anti-establishment and non-mainstream. Just look at his most recent work with Lucha Underground, working an Alice in Wonderland inspired gimmick with The Rabbit Tribe.
London reportedly had his share of run ins with WWE management, and rumor has it that the straw that broke the camel’s back came in a poorly timed smile. Mr. McMahon was making a grave march to his limousine at the end of an episode of Raw in which everything had gone wrong for him. The walk was to conclude with him getting in his limousine and it exploding to open the Who Killed Mr. McMahon angle, which was ultimately cut off in wake of the real life Benoit family tragedy. While other wrestlers followed directions to look serious and somber as McMahon walked past them, London could be seen openly smiling. This expression was seen as direct insubordination in an important moment for the Mr. McMahon character, thus London was fired for smiling.
8. Muhammad Hassan – Fired For Doing What He Was Told
In 2004, Italian-American Upstate New Yorker Marc Copani found himself cast in one of the most controversial gimmicks WWE has ever produced. He played Muhammad Hassan, a character of Arabic descent who felt targeted in the wake of September 11th. While the character may have started as a relatively nuanced social commentary, in a year’s time it devolved. Hassan became a more straightforward heel and was given masked henchmen billed as sympathizers, widely hypothesized to represent terrorists.
Hassan seemed to be approaching full-blown stardom when he was booked in a rivalry with The Undertaker that was rumored to be a gateway to him challenging Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship. A July 4th themed episode of SmackDown saw the masked men attack The Phenom at Hassan’s direction and choke him out with piano wire. In an instance of incredibly poor timing, the attack was filmed three days in advance, and terrorist attacks in London hit less than 24 hours before the episode actually aired. The network was understandably upset and called for WWE never to use Hassan on their show again. After getting trounced on PPV by The Undertaker, Hassan was sent back down to developmental for rebranding and wound up released. He retired from wrestling at that point.
7. Billy Gunn – Fired For Violating The Wellness Policy… As A Trainer
WWE has understandably cracked down on all manner of drug use with a strict Wellness Policy that checks for all manner of illicit substances and leads to suspensions or even termination for those who break the rules. The temptation for wrestlers to use performance enhancing drugs, painkillers, and recreational drugs must be high given the pressure to maintain their physiques and the need to overcome chronic aches and pains to perform in the ring multiple times a week.
Gunn made a WWE comeback in 2014 teamed with his old partner, The Road Dogg for a fun nostalgia run, before reporting to the Performance Center to work as a trainer for the months to follow. WWE reportedly didn’t know that Gunn was, on his own time, competing in powerlifting. The extracurricular came to their attention when he was suspended for taking performance enhancing drugs there, which led to WWE testing him too, finding him in violation of the Wellness Policy, and releasing him.
Trainers aren’t typically tested the way that active workers are, so the sequence of events came across as a bit of a non-sequitur. Despite being in his 50s, Gunn has carried on, still working a fairly regular schedule wrestling on the indies since WWE let him go.
6. Abraham Washington – Fired For Comparing Talent To Kobe Bryant
Abraham Washington was a rare non-wrestling personality employed by WWE in the reality era, used to host an in-ring talk show before transitioning ot a manger role. He may be best remembered for his gimmick using a lapel microphone to shout encouragement to his team, The Primetime Players,Titus O’Neil and Darren Young, from ringside.
Unfortunately, it was that live mic that got him in trouble. In a match against Kofi Kingston, Washington took it upon himself to compare O’Neil to Kobe Bryant in a Colorado hotel room—unstoppable. The comment drew attention because Bryant had been accused of violating a woman in a hotel room and Washington seemed to be relating O’Neil’s in ring offense to the alleged actions of Kobe. It makes sense that WWE would censure Washington for the lapse in judgment, and maybe cut off the live mic gimmick altogether. Instead, though, his WWE tenure on the whole was cut short as he was fired for the inappropriate remark.
5. Simon Gotch – Fired Because Creative Didn’t Have Anything For Him
It’s not so unusual for a talent to be let go because the WWE creative team doesn’t have much for him. There can only be so many guys like JTG, kept on the payroll despite not being used for over a year, and there are those talents who simply run their course and are no longer exciting for the fans to engage with. The case of Simon Gotch doesn’t quite match up, however.
Gotch teamed up with Aiden English as The Vaudevillians, in a gimmick that some enjoyed more than others, but was nonetheless reasonably successful in NXT before transitioning to the main roster. After the team failed to find its footing on Raw, WWE unceremoniously released Gotch for lack of anything for him to do. While the public claim was that the release was mutually agreed upon, Gotch has commented in subsequent interviews that it was not—that he had cordially agreed to leave when WWE asked him to, but it wasn’t his choice.
Had The Vaudevillians been around for years, or had WWE already tried splitting them up and seeing what they could do as singles wrestlers, the choice to let Gotch go wouldn’t be a shocker. That he had been on the main roster for less than one year, however, made it seem like an abrupt and arbitrary choice to not at least send him back down to developmental before giving him a pink slip.
4. Mr. Kennedy – Fired For Bad Luck
There was a time when Mr. Kennedy came across as WWE management’s chosen one. The guy won a Money in the Bank briefcase (after getting a specialized entrance at WrestleMania 23). He was positioned to have tried to have killed Mr. McMahon, and later as his estranged son.
Time and again, Kennedy’s big pushes didn’t pan out when he suffered an ill-timed injury or, in the case of the Who Killed Mr. McMahon? Angle, the real life Benoit family tragedy derailed things.
And then there were lower stakes issues. Kennedy’s big push as an anti-hero opposite William Regal’s heel authority figure fell of track when Regal got suspended for a Wellness Policy violation. Kennedy suffered more injuries and had more injuries happen in matches with him despite no obvious error on his part that would have caused the injuries.
The end result was Kennedy getting fired. While being injury prone and having a bad attitude were the generally accepted reasons, this all reads like code for a guy who simply had bad luck that fouled up anything good that might have come his way.
3. Bruce Prichard – Disagreeing With “The Vincess”
Besides playing the Brother Love gimmick, Bruce Prichard spent many years as a trusted advisor and creative contributor for WWE, at times considered second only to Vince McMahon himself as a power broker in the company.
Prichard’s time with WWE didn’t end up so happily, though. In shoot interviews, he has recalled his displeasure in working with Stephanie McMahon. In particular, he cited giving up power in favor of her control, only to essentially take over for her when she went on maternity leave. When she came back for good, though, Prichard has described Stephanie as particularly harsh, controlling, and vindictive toward those who disagreed with her. He mockingly called her “The Vincess” in reference to her being Vince’s daughter, and thus treated as royalty within WWE—beyond reproach and able to chastise anyone she wanted. Ultimately, Prichard says he was let go for butting heads with her too much.
2. Finlay – Fired For Interrupting An Anthem
Finlay was a celebrated wrestler who went on to success as a trainer and as an agent for WWE. Particularly, in between his later runs, he was credited with training a cluster of female wrestlers including Trish Stratus who were wildly successful coming out of the Attitude Era. In general, Finlay’s the kind of guy who commands respect on account of his wrestling credentials, his level head, and the results he’s yielded.
There was a point, however, at which WWE let Finlay go because of a choice he made as an agent. During The Miz’s 2011 main event run, Finlay sent him to the ring to interrupt the National Anthem in an attempt to get heat. National Guard members were present and among those offended by the stunt.
Finlay would admit that he’d made an error in judgment and apologize, but that wasn’t enough to save his job at the time. Fortunately, WWE would end up bringing back the Irishman a little over a year later, after things had settled down.
1. Joey Styles – Being A Little Too Honest In An Interview
Joey Styles often came across as an odd fit for WWE as an outspoken hardcore wrestling enthusiast plugged into what may have been the most corporately sanitized version of a wrestling company known to man. After three years in prominent broadcast roles, he was transitioned to a leadership role with WWE.com which made sense in a way given he was more in touch with the more hardcore-style Internet fan base, but was still problematic for a guy best known for his unique voice and talking to be plugged in behind the scenes at a keyboard for the company.
In the end, Styles’s outspoken style would be what got him fired. In a Facebook interview, Styles pushed boundaries, making knocks on Roman Reigns and the concept of the Universal Title. The Wrestling Observer suggested that bucking the company’s higher ups and opening the curtain behind the scenes a little too wide rubbed his bosses the wrong way cost him his job. It was a strange circumstance given the company gave him the greenlight to give a shoot interview in this style.
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