When the WWE tells you that they literally have their own universe, for better or worse they're kinda right.
For those who work in and around WWE, you are transported into a world of constantly being on the road, old school politics and backstabbing, and the machinations of an impulsive 70-something-year-old man who can literally make or break your career on a whim. Not only that but for all the wildness of yesteryear the modern wrestlers have to deal with the fact that the company and the man running it have total creative and financial control over this never-ending circus. When Vince says jump you not only have to ask how high, you have to nail it live in front of thousands in attendance and millions watching at home.
The WWE has become famous for one of the most baffling dichotomies in the entertainment world, wherein you have to do exactly what is asked of you, exactly how it is laid out. That is unless you don't do that and throw your career on a knife's edge to try something you think will work better and also while hoping that it won't get backlash from the closest McMahon. Very few superstars take that risk these days, and with that being the case WWE has doubled and tripled-down on their rules and micromanaging tendencies to the point where former stars openly lament the rigidity and current stars simply toe the line for fear of being drummed out on their ear.
Vince is famous for wanting exact things done in an exact way, and that has become the way WWE works, with endless rules and guidelines in place that permeate every aspect of how the company proceeds. Over the years specific stories and accounts have turned up detailing the craziest of these, and we're going to go through the top 20 here today.
20 Cease & Desist
WWE can be mightily petty when it comes to enforcing their copyrights on anyone outside the company and that was revisited again just recently when the Bullet Club, particularly the Young Bucks, were sent a Cease & Desist letter informing them that the 'Too Sweet' hand gesture they'd made popular again for years was suddenly being claimed by WWE. Due to their purchase of everything WCW Vince had had the legal recourse to do this for years prior but it was only after the Bullet Club staged an 'invasion' of Monday Night Raw that the battle became joined.
Hilariously, it didn't stop Bullet Club or The Young Bucks from profiting from the exchange. Within days 'Cease & Desist' and 'One-Sweet' shirts were making excessive amounts of cash for the group, so Vince's legal play really only made WWE look foolish for their micromanaging tendencies.
19 The Artist Formerly Known As Kenta
As shown above, WWE is obsessed with being able to license everything they can so that when the money comes rolling in, they get their fair share. Except for a brief period between 2002-04, that means when a superstar joins WWE they are forced to abandon the name they've been meticulously and rigorously building on the independent wrestling scene to come up with a new moniker to begin from scratch. Sometimes, as in the cases of Sami Zayn/El Generico and Andrade 'Cien' Almas/La Sombre that means losing an entire masked identity as well.
Only a few exceptions have been made in recent times and hopefully, it's a trend that continues, since AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Bobby Roode have come in unscathed. But it's still afflicting guys like Finn Balor and Hideo Itami, who lost their famous-in-japan names once they arrived. Essentially, it's a crapshoot on whether WWE decides you will become new again or not despite the inherent value that gets left by the wayside.
18 We Want CM Punk!.... No, You Want Sheamus
CM Punk's podcast appearance after he left WWE in 2014 revealed many of the tendencies fans suspected of within WWE and revealed them for what they were. One of the most egregious was that superstars who had significant fan support were steered away from sponsorship deals and media opportunities in favor of the WWE's preferred options. CM Punk's personal account included him being denied the chance to appear at conventions which would have paid him four times the amount he received for wrestling for four consecutive days. Another example saw the video game company get Punk for their cover star on WWE '13 only after fighting tooth and nail with WWE who were pushing Sheamus to be featured despite Punk coming off the hottest year anyone had had in wrestling since Steve Austin. The examples continue to pile up from there and that's only the ones we hear about.
17 Independent Contractors
WWE has a long history of bending the rules of business to get their own way, none more blatant than their classifying the wrestlers as independent contractors instead of full employees. The differences might not make a difference to us fans, but for the people working under that specific label it limits their legal recourses and ability to negotiate on an even playing field.
You cannot appear for other wrestling companies without permission even if you're not needed by WWE on that day. You cannot have personal sponsors or endorsements. Most importantly, WWE can end your employment at any time and enforce a 90-day no-compete clause effectively limiting your working opportunities to prosper once you leave. It's archaic, but WWE is finding out from the likes of Cody Rhodes that the grass is getting greener and it might soon be wise to adjust with the times.
16 Umaga Can't Use Triple H's Green
This example is one that would seem so petty you can't believe it's true, yet it's also so precise that it has to be.
For a long time Triple H would come out to the ring and a kaleidoscope of colors would flash all around him, and it turns out that if you wanted to use one of those colors for your own ring gear you were going to get an earful. Such was the case with The Samoan Bulldozer Umaga, who was blasted over the infraction for daring to come within a color pallette of The King Of Kings. Why Triple H was so protective of a color of all things is crazy but nevertheless, word got out and it's one of those little examples people point to among the many justifying the opinion that life in WWE is nutty enough that Kane wants to attach jumper cables to it.
15 Don't Look Into The Camera, Ever
This is primarily a backstage interview issue that makes every time someone is on camera an unnatural, vague experience that once upon a time was the delicious entree before the main course.
In the past, your Hulk Hogans, Ultimate Warriors, and Randy Savages would glare down the barrel of the lens and communicate directly to the audience and at their opponents to great effect. Now if you so much as glance at the camera you'll likely find yourself losing to Curt Hawkins for breaking one of WWE's insane guidelines requiring the wrestlers never to utilize this engaging tactic no matter how dumb that is. Word is that WWE TV Producer Kevin Dunn is the stickler for this rule but for whoever is responsible they've crippled one of WWE's formerly great methods for storytelling.
14 Championships Aren't Belts
If you so much as call one of WWE's golden prizes that you clip around your waist a belt than god help you for the wrath of Vince shall descend with misplaced vengeance and pointless anger.
One of WWE's doctrines that cannot be more silly is their strict policy that all of these shall only be referred to as 'Championship Titles' or either of those names alone, and it's to the point that it comes off as incredibly insecure. Sure, when you want to maintain the dignity and prestige of the things it makes sense but in the heat of the moment, say if someone stole one of the items in question, you're not going to take the time to say "give me my WWE United States Heavyweight Championship Title back!". It's too much and unnatural. "Give me back my belt!" is something a human might actually say in that instance, so WWE needs to loosen its stance and let the freaking belts be belts again.
13 Title Matches, Not Title Shots
Similar to the 'Championship Titles aren't belts' scenario is the peculiar decision handed down from on high that championship opportunities cannot, under any circumstances, be called Title Shots. It doesn't matter that that phrasing is perfectly fine and the reasons for the rule are even flimsier than the 'belt' example, and yet Vince himself once again shall not be convinced otherwise.
This reared its head recently when Braun Strowman referred to wanting a 'Title Shot' and according to Mick Foley and Braun himself, Vince became furious. The second Braun returned backstage Vince bellowed the house down at the big man, insisting that they are 'Title Matches', not 'Shots'. Foley himself agrees with the rest of us regular Joes and Jills in thinking that the verbiage is perfectly fine either way, but once again something got stuck in Vince's head and it shall not be budged, not even by a Monster Among Men.
12 Only WWE History Matters
One of the methods WWE uses to continually portray themselves as the be-all-end-all of professional wrestling is to largely insist that all happenings that go on outside of WWE might as well be ghost stories or non-existent completely. It has shifted a tiny bit in recent years with the influx of indie and international talent practically forcing them to admit a few things, but by and large, the company line remains 'if it didn't happen in WWE it doesn't matter'.
This was hilariously skewered on a recent SmackDown by none other than SmackDown GM Daniel Bryan when he got into a verbal contest with WWE shill Byron Saxton. Bryan tore into the philosophy and its insular insanity while Byron stammered and stuttered whatever responses he or Vince put in his head. Ultimately, it would only help WWE to point out that some of their wrestlers have major accomplishments on the books outside WWE since getting over within WWE is hard enough without wasting previous accolades.
11 Daniel Bryan's Anarchy Jacket
Another case of WWE having no wiggle room when it comes to their rules, Daniel Bryan debuted a militant-anarchy type jacket at the 2012 Money In The Bank PPV for his WWE Championship match with CM Punk. After walking to the ring with the badass new look, which he'd had specially made and ordered, here's what happened next right from Bryan's own mouth/book. "When I got to the ring, referee Chad Patton leaned in and told me to take the jacket off. I wasn’t quite sure I heard him correctly, so I asked, “What?” Chad told me Vince himself had directed him to tell me, “Take that jacket off!” I did as I was told.".
If you blinked during Daniel Bryan's entrance you never saw the jacket at all, as Vince looked at it and immediately decided that it wasn't a part of his show despite its excellent aesthetic. By the time CM Punk joined him in the ring the jacket was gone, never to be seen again.
10 CM Punk's Sponsorships
CM Punk was nothing if not the squeaky wheel during his WWE tenure, often pushing for new or innovative ways to express his character. In this case, he was actively also trying to create a new revenue stream for himself and other wrestlers, however, under Vince, you are about as likely to succeed at that as you are to convince him that a WCW rebirth is a good idea.
CM Punk was hot off of his Money In The Bank departure and return and proposed having new fighter shorts made where he could have sponsors and the like, not only for the money but as a sign of his new upgraded status. Vince shot him down citing conflicting sponsorships with WWE's established partners and a few other token reasons. CM Punk let it slide and then was dismayed to see that when Brock Lesnar returned soon after he had that exact deal going for himself while Punk and other wrestlers were denied. In short, you're either a big enough deal to demand exclusive perks or you're under WWE's thumb.
9 Names Being Cut In Half
WWE has become the place where normal (by wrestling standards) names go to die. The list of wrestlers who've nonsensically lost part of their names continues to today with the likes of Cesaro, Rusev, Neville, Elias, and Big E being joined by The Bludgeon Brothers who are now simply Rowan and Harper. The culling of names not only feels like it's discrediting the guys it happens to, but it also limits their chances of becoming household names because their names are going missing!
It may not be a coincidence that the list of guys with butchered names is a who's who of under-utilized talent. Cesaro, Rusev, Neville, Harper, and perhaps even Big E could be considered potential World Championship contenders. Whether this is a sinister, calculated move to limit their upside or the more likely result of overanalyzing and mismanagement, it needs to stop soon. Can you imagine if it had been just Steve, John, or Bryan?
8 "You've Gotta Make Roman Look Strong"
The days of WWE letting the fans actually pick who they wanted to see on top may never have truly existed until Bret Hart essentially outperformed the world at the right time to snare the spotlight. Cheered over Lex Luger and revered by his peers, Hart should have signaled the beginning of a meritocracy that gave us the best guys at the top. From Bret Hart through to Steve Austin Vince was essentially forced to listen to the fans and the WWE had its biggest period of growth and popularity of all time.
So Vince, of course, decided that that was enough of that and began picking for us all over again. Now, whether we like it or not, we got a decade of Cena (of which only the vast minority was solidly good) and Roman Reigns was groomed for the top spot before he was close to his current acceptable levels. Daniel Bryan and CM Punk (who revealed the 'make Roman look strong' strategy) were glaring beacons of talent Vince tried to ignore in his quest to see his vision through and it can only end in more heartbreak as potential megastars are fed to the chosen few.
7 Altering Crowd Noises AKA The SmackDown Hairdryer
One of the best things that SmackDown lost when it returned to going live was the infamous 'hairdryer'. If you don't know what that was it was WWE's blatant inserting of preferred crowd noises for their favorite wrestlers, resulting in a phony-sounding buzzing of identical cheering every time the blue show played host. You could actually hear the same screeching scream in every obnoxious 'cheer' meaning either the same hysterical woman was mimicking herself across America or WWE was trying to bamboozle us with the oldest trick in the book.
Vince altered the sounds for the home releases of the '92 Royal Rumble when Hogan got booed and he does it to this day for Cena and now Roman as he puffs up his favorites whether they're getting mercilessly rejected or not. You can still currently hear the crowd noise literally being turned down or drowned out by music, and it's shamelessly misleading.
6 No Pronouns
Revealed in one of the leaked scripts that have turned up online over the years, it explains why commentary these days, particularly from Michael Cole, is so tough to listen to. They are not just encouraged but outright ordered to rarely if ever refer to a wrestler or team as he/she/they, which adds to the oversaturation of branding and unnatural sounding commentary we are forced through each week.
This is the reason you always hear "Braun Strowman: The Monster Among Men" instead of just 'he' even if they've established who they are referring to multiple times already. Every time they want to mention the big man they have to give him his full honorific title, nickname, and tagline, making every sentence a weighed down, bloated mess. Just speak like people guys.
5 Vince And The Sneeze
This may sound like a Dr. Seuss title but what else can you call it when the guy running the largest wrestling show in the world has zero tolerance for sneezing or sickness? Moreover, it's been regaled and retold by enough reputable sources that among all the crazy Vince rumors it's easily the most verified. If you so much as sniffle in front of the McMahon patriarch you'd better run for the door because even though you can't really control it Vince sees it as a sign of weakness. It's a small example of the overall McMahon view that everything absolutely has to be controlled or influenced whether it's a pointless venture or not. It's the most well known and silliest of the control freak tendencies attributed to Vince, but it shows in everything else he tries to mold through sheer will alone.
4 Word Police (no hatred, feuds, pro wrestling)
Wrestling isn't all about what happens between the ropes. Not 80% or even 50% sometimes, especially in WWE. A lot of what brings people into the arenas is the interpersonal stories and words used by the wrestlers that spice up the contests so you HAVE to see who triumphs. With that understood, surely it can't be real that WWE actively cuts off its superstars at the knees by making half of the words they need to get this across taboo. Another revelation from leaked WWE scripts and notes, words such as 'hate', 'feud', 'kill', and a bunch of others are absolutely not allowed.
Let's not forget that even the term 'pro wrestling' is considered a shameful, dirty word despite being the exact thing putting the butts in the seats to begin with. This screams of WWE trying to 'fix' a problem that didn't exist by trying to come up with their own alternatives, yet when two guys can't express a simple emotional distaste for each other with ordinary words you're driving around the block to get to your bathroom.
3 The WWE Universe, Not Fans
We may have begrudgingly gotten used to it over time, but it's still jarring every time Michael Cole calls the fans exclusively by their new branding, The WWE Universe. When we first heard it it was one of the cringiest, most forced things out of his mouth every week as they bludgeoned us with the new term endlessly until we had little choice but to ignore or accept it because it wasn't going away. Wrestling fans are now the 'WWE Sports Entertainment Universe brought to you by Skittles' or whichever sponsor of the week applies and it's just another level of disconnect between the company and the people who watch.
Very rarely you'll hear a current superstar refer to the fans as such, although Daniel Bryan seems to have no fear and throws it around. It's even now bled into the Championships with the Universal Title being positioned even above the WWE Championship.
2 Editing Reality
WWE has one of the best production crews on the planet by virtue of their weekly, live broadcasts forcing them to that level. Additionally, they're also not above chicanery and trickery when they decide that what the live audience is giving them isn't what they want shown going forward. A newer trend in WWE the last few years is to find reacting crowd members to help emphasize moments of importance, however, WWE cannot control what the fans will do once they make it on screen. This has led to hilarious reactions of fans wildly cheering after 'good guys' like Cena and Roman Reigns are getting beat down.
WWE then has taken it upon themselves, when re-broadcasting or recapping events to edit in their versions of fan reactions instead. None were so egregious as the Roman Reigns case already mentioned, where a cheering fan got to see a newly edited clip of himself looking concerned for Roman put into the recap clip the next week on Raw, which many noticed and immediately called out for the dishonest portrayal.
1 Cross The Boss, Pay The Fine
Work infractions are a normal thing in the course of doing business but in WWE they have occasionally laid out hefty fines for their employees either standing up for themselves or simply trying to make their matches or segments better. The most famous is Steve Austin who walked out protesting Vince wanting to give away a match between him and Brock on free TV. Long story short the two sides mended fences but not before Austin paid out a quarter of a million dollar fine. Batista recalls an example where he bled in a cage match against Chris Jericho, hoping to increase the drama, but as a result, got fined $100,000 and stated that it was that moment he began falling out of love with WWE. Daniel Bryan got fired after The Nexus' first night because WWE didn't want to upset their sponsors. In short, when you swing for the fences in WWE you better have your wallet handy.