Oftentimes, it’s not a wrestler’s fault that they fail to enjoy the success they should while working for the WWE. For example, Vince McMahon has always been infatuated with musclebound He-Man-type wrestlers, which is why so many smaller grapplers, even to this day, don’t get the breaks they deserve. And how the hell can someone get over when given gimmicks such as Mantaur, Kizarny, or Isaac Yankem? (In the last example, you can – by becoming The Undertaker’s pyromaniac half-brother.) Then you’ve got wrestlers who have few other people, or no one at all, to blame for their downfalls but themselves.
Not all of these terrible mistakes are on the wrestlers, mind you. Being the peculiar, yet powerful individual that he is, Mr. McMahon has been known to mete out punishments that don’t fit the crime, and some of the wrestlers in the list were victims of those unreasonable punishments. But all the 15 wrestlers in here have one thing in common – the mistakes they made compromised their position on the card or their entire WWE/pro wrestling careers in general, to the point where they weren’t able to fully recover. So here they are, without further ado – 15 WWE Superstars whose careers might have been better, if not for the mistakes they made.
15. Bret Hart (Jumping Ship To WCW)
For most WWE wrestlers, signing with WCW in the mid ’90s was like ending up on an island paradise after leaving a sinking ship on a lifeboat. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall went from being WWE’s worst-drawing champ and running-in-place mid-carder respectively to being the two co-founding “Outsiders” of the nWo. Hulk Hogan, of course, became the nWo’s “third man” by making the most shocking heel turn to date. Randy Savage got to wrestle again after silently chafing in the commentary role he played for WWE. Using that logic, Bret Hart should have been an even bigger deal in WCW when he joined immediately after the fateful Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997.
Alas, he wasn’t. Due to a mix of Eric Bischoff’s increasingly erratic booking and Nash, Hall, and Hogan’s political maneuvering, the Hitman was a bust in WCW, and whatever titles he won with the company were won at a time when the titles meant less than ever before. Worse, he saw his wrestling career end prematurely, after suffering a concussion from an errant Goldberg kick to the head.
14. Lana And Rusev (Leaking Engagement News To Press)
It was one of the worst damn storylines of 2015. For weeks, WWE fans had to sit through Dolph Ziggler and Lana’s utter lack of chemistry as the two feuded with Rusev and new onscreen partner Summer Rae. It was a feud where nobody, not even Rusev as he showed off his surprisingly good promo skills, was getting over, and fans rejoiced when the storyline screeched to a halt. Vince McMahon, however, reportedly loved the storyline, and was furious at the person responsible for its abrupt end – the Ravishing Russian, Lana.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Lana announcing her engagement to Rusev on TMZ. But with McMahon having a strange inconsistency when it comes to upholding the now-lost art of kayfabe, he was upset that the “love quadrangle” storyline had to end so soon (even if fans were crapping on it). That resulted in the newly-engaged and soon-to-be-married couple losing their push, and even with Rusev’s current status as one of SmackDown Live‘s best-loved and most entertaining heels, his push has yet to recover.
13. Tyler Breeze (Leaving A Show Early)
It’s not necessarily the most popular rule of professional wrestling, but rules are rules. Yes, we can agree that it doesn’t make much sense for wrestlers to be banned from leaving a show early when their match is done, or if they don’t have anything to do on-air anyway – why fly them out to the arena in the first place? But with Vince McMahon being the kind of old-school, hands-on boss that he is, he finds it disrespectful if wrestlers pull such a stunt, even if they’ve got bleep-all to do on that day. Wrestlers such as Tyler Breeze, circa 2016.
Apparently, this was the catalyst for Breeze getting downgraded from promising newcomer to someone who lost every single match he competed in. It wasn’t until Curt Hawkins returned to the WWE that someone had a longer losing streak, and while Breeze was able to rebound when he and Fandango got seriously over with their “Fashion Files” series, Breezango is now back to the bottom rungs of the SmackDown Live tag team rankings, and it’s hard to say that Prince Pretty’s main roster run has truly recovered from his mistake of leaving the arena early almost two years ago.
12. Jim Duggan (A Kayfabe-Breaking Arrest)
You’ll notice in this list that we included a good number of drug arrests. I’m not the type to proselytize about the evils of pot, but when you’re a pro wrestler, it behooves you to abide by a company’s wellness policies. But this particular example of a wrestler getting caught dancing with Mary Jane involves more than just the drugs; it also involves a violation of kayfabe, which was, at the time of the incident, more sacred to Vince McMahon than the holy Bible.
In 1987, police arrested “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and The Iron Sheik and charged them with marijuana and cocaine possession, resulting in both men getting sacked by the WWE. What seemed to have rankled Vince more than the drugs was the fact that a pro-America babyface and an evil foreign heel were busted in the same car! Duggan was eventually rehired, but he later admitted that WWE had big plans for him prior to the arrest. Who knows if that would have meant being more than a career mid-carder?
11. Titus O’Neil (Hugging Vince After Bryan Retirement Speech)
We wouldn’t really call it a mistake in the truest sense, because if your boss is a cool and laid-back guy, he probably wouldn’t mind a little roughhousing and goofing around. But we all know that Vince McMahon has zero chill, and since Titus O’Neil decided to roughhouse with the boss as Daniel Bryan wrapped up his retirement speech last year, Vince saw it as being so uncalled-for that he originally wanted to fire Titus right then and there. Then it became a 90-day suspension, which was eventually reduced to 60 days.
O’Neil was able to return from the suspension and keep his head away from the chopping block in the almost two years since then, but with his Titus Worldwide stable pretty much a dumping ground for the lower-card likes of Apollo Crews, it’s safe to say that his previously-middling career is as close to you can get to being flushed down the toilet.
10. Jean-Pierre Lafitte (Refusing To Job To Diesel)
Originally known as Quebecer Pierre, Carl Ouellet got repackaged in 1995 as kayfabe pirate Jean-Pierre Lafitte. As bad as things already were – going from successful tag team wrestler to singles competitor with a go-nowhere gimmick – things got even worse when WWE held a house show in his native Montreal. Allegedly, former teammate Jacques Rougeau got in Lafitte’s ear and told him that it would be a bad idea for him to lose at home, given the passionate nature of Montreal crowds. Thing is, Pierre was booked on that night to face Diesel, who was then the WWE Champion, and a member of a very powerful clique. Or should we say, Kliq.
With Diesel and the rest of the Kliq upset that a lowly mid-carder was refusing to do the job, the story suggests that the original plan of a double-DQ finish was changed to Diesel winning clearly. In retaliation, Lafitte deliberately let the match go to a double count-out, which resulted in a big-time Kliq burial, and a quick exit from the WWE. When he returned to the WWE in 1998 as Quebecer Pierre, he was a virtual non-entity, mostly losing during the few times he showed up on TV.
9. Carlito (Turning Down Rehab)
Right now, there’s only one man who could help make The Colons relevant again (or relevant, period), and that’s Primo’s brother and Epico’s cousin, Carlito. A skilled worker with a great gimmick, “Carlito Caribbean Cool” defeated John Cena in his very first WWE match in 2004, winning the United States Championship and looking like a cinch to become a world champion at some point in the near future. Six years later, all he had was a handful of mid-card belts, and a spot as an NXT Season 1 Pro, where he mentored the least-promising rookie of the bunch, Michael Tarver.
Sadly, painkiller addiction had caused Carlito’s push to stall in the years since his unforgettable main roster debut, and when WWE offered to pay for his rehab, he flatly refused. That led to his firing in the middle of NXT’s first season, and while he did help induct his father, Puerto Rican legend Carlos Colon, into WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2014, it doesn’t seem as if he’s truly back in the company’s good graces.
8. Serena Deeb (Drinking While Working Straight-Edge Gimmick)
Indie standout Serena Deeb had barely even gotten to wrestle for the WWE when one big mistake ended her brief run with the company in 2010. Originally debuted as a random woman in the audience who showed her dedication to CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society by getting her head shaved on live TV, Serena’s involvement in the faction was mostly limited to distracting Punk and Luke Gallows’ opponents. But just when it seemed as if she would soon get more in-ring exposure, she was caught drinking at a bar – perfectly acceptable for a pro wrestler, but not if your gimmick is that of someone who detests all forms of vices.
As it turned out, Serena actually had a legitimate drinking problem, which she has since recovered from. But we doubt that WWE has completely moved on from her little breach of kayfabe from seven years ago – despite a strong showing at the Mae Young Classic, WWE chose not to sign her, even for NXT, where her experience would have been a real boost to the developmental ranks.
7. Perry Saturn (Shooting On A Jobber)
Looking back, The Radicalz were probably one of WWE’s most tragic factions, with a member who experienced world championship success, but died at a young age while still active (Eddie Guerrero), another former world champion scrubbed from the history books for his horrific crimes (Chris Benoit), and a technical wizard who retired not long after working a gimmick that didn’t suit him (Dean Malenko). Then there’s Perry Saturn, whom WWE cracked down on after he legitimately attacked jobber Mike Bell during a dark match.
As punishment, Saturn’s gimmick was altered, as he became a concussion victim who dumped his real, live onscreen girlfriend (Terri Runnels) for an inanimate mop unimaginatively called “Moppy.” Surprisingly, the gimmick got over, but Saturn’s push was dead in the water, and he was out of the WWE one year after the whole Moppy debacle. That’s sadly ironic, considering Saturn’s ongoing battle with traumatic brain injuries.
6. Jack Swagger (DUI/Drug Possession Arrest)
In the first few months of 2013, Jack Swagger found himself a new lease on his WWE life. With Zeb Colter as his mouthpiece, Swagger became a pro-American, yet xenophobic heel, and was feuding with Alberto Del Rio over the World Heavyweight Championship in probably the only time the Pride of Mexico was effective in the WWE as a babyface. The plan for him to win at Elimination Chamber to set up a title match against Del Rio at WrestleMania, which Swagger would in turn win. Then came a DUI arrest where marijuana was found in Swagger’s car. Ouch.
As the arrest came shortly after Swagger won at Elimination Chamber as planned, he still had his ‘Mania match against Del Rio. But he lost that match, and would find himself tumbling back down the card, with WWE seemingly no longer willing to trust him with anything resembling a good push. By the time he left WWE earlier this year, he was hardly on TV, and looking to end his time in the WWE as one of the most underwhelming main event champions in company history. We wish him all the luck, though, as he prepares to kick off his MMA career as part of the Bellator roster.
5. Rich Swann (Domestic Violence Arrest)
Like Drew Gulak and his PowerPoint presentations, Rich Swann and his dancing was one of the few bright lights in WWE’s Cruiserweight Division, at least as far as Cruiserweight Classic signees were concerned. He was a fun and infectious presence in the ring, and he could also cut a good promo. Just weeks ago, he was slated to face Gulak in a match to determine the number one contender for Enzo Amore’s Cruiserweight Championship. But sadly, he ended up behind bars just days before that match, after allegedly erupting at his wife as they fought over his criticism of her match at an indie show.
Most husbands would support their wrestling wives in such a situation, and tell them there’s always next show to make up for a bad outing. But since Swann got arrested for what appeared to be a physical argument, he got suspended indefinitely, and he’s now looking like a candidate for future endeavors, given how WWE wants to get tough on domestic violence.
4. Mr. Kennedy (Nearly Injuring Randy Orton)
More than just another well-built youngster with the look that Vince McMahon drools over, Mr. Kennedy was actually a skilled wrestler in the ring and on the mic, and had the looks of a future main event champion when he joined WWE’s main roster in 2006. It also helped that his hammy self-introduction shtick (“MR…KENNEDY! KENNEDY!”) was really over with the fans. But injuries, Wellness Policy violations, and bad attitude slowed his rise to the top, and by 2009, he was still stuck in the mid-card.
That also happened to be when Kennedy, fresh off an injury, botched a backdrop on Randy Orton in his big return match after being sidelined with an injury. With Orton upset with the botch, he allegedly spoke to McMahon to get Kennedy fired, and was successful. Kennedy then went on to TNA, where he used his real surname as Mr. Anderson, and had a decent run with the company before leaving in 2016. Yet he remains persona non grata to WWE, who wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole, despite the fact he’s also burned his bridges with TNA/Impact.
3. David Schultz (Slapping A Reporter)
When talking about proto-“Stone Cold” Steve Austins in the WWE, two names come to mind – Bad News Brown for his antisocial persona, and “Dr. D” David Schultz for his surly redneck gimmick and prominent Southern drawl. By late 1984, he had everything going for him as he rose up WWE’s ranks, but when he chose to defend the business against 20/20 reporter John Stossel and his insinuations that wrestling is “fake,” he ended up going too far by flooring the much smaller man with some non-worked slaps.
Ironically, it was a completely different incident (an altercation with Mr. T) that appears to have been the reason for Schultz getting fired in 1985. But the altercation with Stossel clearly made WWE wary of him, as the company thought it might be dealing with a certified loose cannon who, despite his good intentions, could potentially cause more harm than good, which is what happened after he slapped Stossel.
2. Rob Van Dam (Drug Arrest While WWE And ECW Champion)
By most accounts, Rob Van Dam had a pretty solid run in the WWE, but it could have been better. RVD was one of the company’s most popular wrestlers of the first half of the 2000s, and by July 2006, he was more than two months removed from beating John Cena for the WWE Championship, and was also ECW World Heavyweight Champion on the newly-revived brand. He was truly high on top of the wrestling world. Unfortunately, the law had to get involved as he (and Sabu) were on a different kind of high when police arrested them, one night before the first Raw of July 2006.
In short order, Van Dam dropped his WWE Championship to Edge, then dropped his ECW title to Big Show, with WWE suspending him for the drug arrest. When RVD returned in August, he tried, yet always failed to regain his titles, particularly the ECW belt. By 2007, he was gone from the WWE, not to return for another six years, upon which he had a lackluster part-time run for the company.
1. Hulk Hogan (The Gawker Leak)
Two years after it happened, it’s still arguably the most infamous example of a WWE wrestler, past or present, doing or saying something stupid and paying for it with his career. Although it happened years ago, it still didn’t make things any better (and why would it) when Hulk Hogan was caught on tape in 2015 making racist comments about African-Americans, using the N-word liberally and even going as far as saying everybody’s “a little racist.”
With WWE taking stock of the bad PR caused by the leaked audio, the company immediately fired Hogan, relieving him of his duties on Tough Enough and as company ambassador, and scrubbed their website of almost every reference to the Hulkster, even his own Hall of Fame page. Rumors still swirl of Hogan being in talks with the WWE for a possible return, but the sentiment similarly remains – it may be harder to forget Hulk’s racist statements than to forgive him for them.
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