When a professional wrestler fails to make an impact in his or her promotion, it's oftentimes through no fault of theirs. Promoters (here's looking at you, Vince McMahon) will inevitably saddle a promising talent with a gimmick that just can't get over, or creative could put them in bad storylines. Wrestlers may often be sorely lacking in a tool or two, may it be charisma, wrestling skills, or promo skills, and that may lead to their lack of success. But sometimes, wrestlers end up with nobody else to blame for their shortcomings but themselves, with one stupid decision or two leading to a major career setback.
In this list, we'll be looking at some wrestlers who made such boneheaded moves, regardless whether they seemed like good moves at the time or not. In most cases, these led to irreparable career damage, but as you'll find out, there are some instances where the wrestlers redeemed themselves in or out of the ring, or still may have a chance to make things right. But these mistakes were game-changers in the worst possible meaning of the term, and we're going to see just how these mistakes affected the careers of the wrestlers who made them.
Join us now as we count down 20 wrestlers from major North American promotions (mostly WWE, but some TNA/Impact and WCW examples) whose head-scratching decisions ruined, or came close to ruining their wrestling careers.
20 Brad Maddox – Cussing Out The Fans
Brad Maddox couldn't find success in WWE regardless of role, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. After his ill-fated run as an authority figure had ended, Maddox was taken off television, and he would spend this time trying to reinvent himself, renaming himself Joshua Kingsley (better than Mad Braddox), then Lord Ruffles (seriously, Brad?) as he also formed a tag team with fellow lower-carder Adam Rose. This all took place in dark matches, and so did the incident that ended his WWE run once and for all.
Just four days after he and Rose got their butts kicked by The Usos on Main Event, marking Maddox's return to TV, he got sacked in November 2015 for insulting fans with the words "cocky pricks." Sure, it doesn't have the same impact as dropping an F-bomb, but profanity is profanity in WWE's PG era, and Maddox was instantly fired for his faux pas. Not surprisingly, he's far better-known these days for his role in the leaked Paige sex video than anything he's done in the indies under the questionable ring name Mad Braddox.
19 Bronson Matthews – Mocking A Jobber Faction On Social Media
One look at Josh Bredl and you could tell why Vince McMahon would see him as a future asset to the company as the winner of Tough Enough's sixth season. He's a former college football star with a towering frame and huge physique, and you know how Vince loves those types. But the curse that seems to come with winning WWE's original reality-based rookie search caught Bredl early on, as he made the dumb mistake of dissing the all-star jobber stable The Social Outcasts on Twitter, calling them the "Social Jobbers."
Bredl, who uses the ring name Bronson Matthews in NXT, was roasted on Twitter by his colleagues, who were all upset that he disparaged their locker room brothers, while using wrestling jargon at that! Up to now, we've yet to see Bredl/Matthews on NXT television, and rumors swirled quite recently that he was let go. They turned out to be false, but don't be surprised if his head's on the chopping block come 2017 future endeavors season.
18 Robbie McAllister – Attending A Rival Company's Show
Before Drew McIntyre, Scotland was well-represented on WWE by kayfabe cousins Rory and Robbie McAllister, who competed as The Highlanders and were, for some time, contenders for the World Tag Team Championships. They were then used as glorified enhancement talent for most of 2007 and 2008, and it was in March 2008 when Robbie was caught on camera in attendance at TNA Impact!, with the company advertising him under his real name, Dereck Graham-Couch, and billing him as a "WWE wrestler."
As Robbie was quite unhappy with WWE at the time, he later admitted that this was his way of trying to get fired. But he did end up losing his WrestleMania paycheck as a result of this stunt, and The Highlanders were still jobbed out, with both Robbie and Rory released from WWE in August 2008.
17 Daniel Puder – Shooting On Kurt Angle
Ah, yes, here's another notorious Tough Enough winner, and probably the most notorious of them all in a not-so-very-good way. Daniel Puder won the "Million-Dollar" edition of Tough Enough, beating out future WWE Superstars The Miz and Ryback, but you could tell he was doomed for failure even before his name was announced as the winner.
That was because on an episode of Tough Enough, Puder decided to show everyone what an MMA badass he was, putting Kurt Angle in a Kimura lock for real. Angle was understandably angry, and WWE gave up on Puder early on, slotting him into the lower card and having him get eliminated very early, and in humiliating fashion, at the 2005 Royal Rumble.
16 Nailz – Physically Attacking The Boss
Nailz was never known to be a great worker, but WWE obviously believed in him at the start, booking him in a feud with Big Boss Man and making him look even stronger by altering his voice, which was, in real life, higher than what you'd expect from a burly 6'5"-300 guy. But he was unhappy with what WWE was paying him, which was what led him to allegedly storm into Vince McMahon's office and attack him for real over said pay disputes.
Naturally, this led to WWE getting rid of the kayfabe ex-con, and while he got out of his Stamford "prison," he couldn't get out of the jailbird/ex-con role, as he continued playing it until his retirement in the late-'90s, firmly establishing him as a one-trick pony.
15 Chris Masters – Returning To WWE Too Soon
Chris Masters was only 22 years old when he made his WWE debut, immediately making an impact in the midcard as an impressive physical specimen, and the master, pun intended, of the Master Lock. But his sculpted physique also drew attention for the wrong reasons, and WWE let him go in 2007, not long after he ran afoul of the company's Substance Abuse and Drug Policy a second time.
Two years later, he was back, but he was no longer an arrogant he-man bodybuilder. Instead, he was doing pec dances to the tune of songs like Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" and the theme to Chariots of Fire, and floundering in the lower midcard, with WWE apparently giving him a comedy gimmick to avoid the stigma associated with rehiring a multiple-time drug policy offender.
As Masters was still very young when WWE first let him go, he could have toiled a little longer in the indies before returning. Sadly, he's an example of what could have been, though he's now making another attempt to make a name in the big leagues, wrestling on Impact under the name Chris Adonis.
14 Bart Gunn – Joining The Brawl For All
In hindsight, nobody, maybe not even Bart Gunn himself, expected what would have happened at WWE's god-awful Brawl for All experiment in 1998, and what would have come next. The Marty Jannetty to Billy Gunn's poor man's Shawn Michaels had been floundering in the midcard since The Smoking Gunns disbanded in 1996, and he probably felt he had nothing to lose by joining an experimental shoot fighting tournament. But when he upset tourney favorite "Dr. Death" Steve Williams in the second round, things began to unravel.
Gunn was, in all fairness, a legitimate shooter, and his ultimate Brawl for All tournament victory seemed like the start of something bigger and better. Instead, he was put in a boxing match against Butterbean at WrestleMania XV, where he got knocked out in just 35 seconds. With the onetime "Bodacious" Bart reduced to patsy status against the rotund gimmick boxer, WWE released him soon after. Now do you see how the Brawl for All didn't benefit anyone at the end of the day?
13 Perry Saturn – Attacking A Jobber
During his time in WCW, ECW, and WWE, Perry Saturn was a very underrated performer, a natural powerhouse who could also put opponents away with his Rings of Saturn submission. That's a move we still see today as Neville's heel/King of the Cruiserweights finisher, but the man who innovated the move could have enjoyed so much more success in the WWE, had he not snapped on jobber Mike Bell in a 2001 dark match.
For his legitimate attack on Bell, WWE punished Saturn by giving him a gimmick that had no chance of getting over – concussion victim prone to non-sequiturs, with a love interest that happened to be an inanimate object. Surprisingly, Saturn's "Moppy" storyline was a big hit, but it damaged his long-term career prospects, though injuries also played a huge part in WWE's decision to release him in 2002.
12 Jake Roberts – Saying "Yes" Again To His Personal Demons
From the 1980s to the early-'90s, Jake "The Snake" Roberts was a fixture of WWE's upper midcard, and we need not remind you that the man was a master of in-ring psychology, and a great promo guy, despite the fact he never resorted to screaming or yelling like most of his peers at the time. Sadly, he wasted his talent through drugs and alcohol, and after a subpar WCW run, he was back in WWE in 1996, ostensibly clean, sober, and a man of God.
In fairness to Jake, he must have been trying really hard to clean up his act. But he was, in reality, soon back to his old ways, and with a few exceptions, his matches in his second WWE run were hard to watch – he just wasn't the same Jake the Snake who had great success as a face and a heel in his first run. WWE realized this, and also saw he was relapsing, and fired him early in 1997. It would take years before he finally cleaned up, thanks in no small part to his friend Diamond Dallas Page and his DDP Yoga regimen.
11 Carlito – Refusing Rehab
When you're the son of a Puerto Rican wrestling legend who wins the United States Championship on his first night in the main roster, and at the tender age of 25, you've probably got "future world champ" written all over you. It also helps to have an extremely entertaining gimmick, where you eat apples and spit 'em out at anyone who doesn't want to be cool. Unfortunately, midcard belts were as good as it got for Carlito Colon, a.k.a. Carlito Caribbean Cool.
At a young age, Carlito developed a bad painkiller addiction, and as he tumbled down the card, he also proved to be a piece of work when WWE offered to send him to rehab. For refusing rehab while he was in the middle of mentoring Michael Tarver in the first season of the NXT rookie search, WWE released him in 2010. And despite numerous rumors that he'd one day be spitting apples and rocking that huge afro once again on WWE television, it would seem that rehiring a now-38-year-old Carlito, even as a part-timer, is rather low on the 'E's priority list.
10 Mr. Anderson – Trashing TNA After Getting Fired For Drugs
If Ken Anderson only had a solid backstage attitude to go with his wrestling skills, he would have been a much bigger deal in the wrestling business, either in WWE as Mr. Kennedy or in TNA/Impact Wrestling as Mr. Anderson. Sure, he's won his share of titles in the latter company, but he has no one else to blame but himself for failing an on-the-spot drug test in March of 2016, which led to his dismissal from TNA.
With Ken Anderson being Ken Anderson, he took to the mic at an independent show not long after TNA fired him, yelling "F**k TNA!" and essentially blacklisting himself from a company that could have still found good use for him. At 41 years old, Anderson now splits time between his wrestling school and the independent circuit, but his reputation as a malcontent and lack of remorse for his drug test screw-up now has him unemployable by two major North American promotions.
9 Rusev And Lana – Outing Their Engagement On TMZ
At this point, there is still hope that the husband-and-wife duo of Rusev and Lana would get their push back. But things haven't been the same since Lana admitted to TMZ in 2015 that she and Rusev were engaged. That hotshotted the ongoing storyline where a babyface Lana and Dolph Ziggler were feuding with a heel Rusev and Summer Rae, and Vince McMahon was reportedly a fan of that "love quadrangle"/"rebound partners" feud. Fans, however, hated it, and were relieved it was over soon after the real-life engagement announcement.
As we all know Mr. McMahon oftentimes couldn't care less about what the fans think, that was the event that sent Rusev tumbling down the card, as he hasn't been seen as a serious threat ever since. Lana, meanwhile, is being repackaged as a wrestler through endless vignettes, and since we know her forte is on the mic and not in the ring, we don't think that's ending well for her. Especially since her new gimmick has some definite Emmalina influences in it.
8 Dynamite Kid – Steroids
If Dynamite Kid did, for all intents and purposes, have a good run in the WWE before injuries cut it short, why is he on this list? Well, the simple, and probably obvious reason is the fact that he got into steroids during his days in Stampede Wrestling. As a squeaky-clean, undersized young British prospect, Tom Billington felt he was too small to look credible against his North American competition, so he went ahead and gave steroids a try. And seeing that they did make him bigger and stronger, he kept on using them, and eventually got his cousin, Davey Boy Smith, on them when he made the move from the U.K. to Canada.
Ultimately, Dynamite has steroids – and himself – to blame for what happened next. Not only did he become very injury-prone, to the point where he was a shell of himself before he turned 30, steroids also made him a vicious, unpredictable bully who abused and even threatened to kill his wife and pulled nasty, uncalled-for ribs on his co-workers. All told, Dynamite never lived up to his true potential as a mega-talented in-ring worker.
7 Paige – Dating Alberto El Patron
There, I said it. I'm no longer sitting the fence on this issue – Alberto El Patron has been a bad, BAD influence on Paige, and she probably should have stuck to her rocker boyfriend (heck, even Brad Maddox would have been a better choice) than moved on to El Patron. I have nothing against the age gap like some others do, but a line has to be drawn when it comes to Alberto's toxic behavior as of late.
As you probably know, El Patron had recently posted a series of Periscope videos where, while under the admitted influence of booze, he rips WWE to shreds, taking full aim at Triple H, or the "guy with the big nose" as he calls him. And it's troubling that Paige, who's been on thin ice with WWE ever since she and Alberto started dating, has willingly shared these videos on her WWE-affiliated Twitter. As such, I expect WWE to job her out once she finally returns from injury.
6 Jack Swagger – Championship Push Up In Smoke
By early-2013, Jack Swagger was an afterthought, three years after being one of WWE's least-impressive World Heavyweight Champions of all time. But to many fans' surprise, he became a top contender for that title, with Zeb Colter as his manager and a new xenophobic, Tea Party-esque gimmick driven by Colter's excellent mic work. And at WrestleMania XXIX, he was supposed to beat Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight title, having won a number one contender match for that belt at Elimination Chamber.
Then came that fateful DUI and drug possession arrest, just two days after his Elimination Chamber victory. What followed was dozens of "Weed the People" memes, and the loss of Swagger's main event push. After failing to win tag team gold with Cesaro as The Real Americans, Swagger turned babyface when he turned on Colter, and with that went any semblance of any kind of push. He's since asked for his release from WWE, but who knows if things would have been different if Swagger hadn't gotten busted?
5 David Schultz – Open-Hand Slap On John Stossel/Challenging Mr. T To A Fight
David Schultz seemed to have all the tools needed to be a main event success in the WWE – youth, good physique, charisma, great mic skills, and in-ring ability. He could have been Stone Cold Steve Austin before Stone Cold as an ill-tempered redneck character, and easily one of WWE's most hated heels of the 1980s. But toward the end of 1984, he made the huge mistake of being too overzealous while protecting the business.
With a condescending John Stossel of 20/20 interviewing him and insinuating that pro wrestling was "fake," Schultz decided to legitimately slap the much-smaller reporter, snarling the words "YOU THINK THAT'S FAKE?" at the beleaguered Stossel. It's still not sure whether "Dr. D" did so on his own initiative or at WWE's request, but the bad PR that followed the Stossel incident put him on a short leash, and he was fired in 1985 after allegedly challenging actor Mr. T to a legitimate fight.
4 Ryback – Demanding Equal Pay For Everyone
On the plus side, Ryback appears to be much happier now that he's free from the WWE. He's marketing his own personal brand quite aggressively, selling supplements, writing a book, and even going as far as to legally change his first name from Ryan to Ryback. But on the negative side, his name is essentially poison for major wrestling companies, as his podcast, Conversation with the Big Guy, is a full-on showcase for Ryback's malcontent tendencies.
Among all the boneheaded things he's said since WWE "benched" him months ahead of his release, one really stands out – a blog post where he complained that lower- and midcard wrestlers deserve to be paid as well as main eventers, due to wrestling being predetermined, and the fact these guys make the top names look good.
If we are to use Ryback logic in, say, the NBA for example, Andre Iguodala deserves a max contract because he comes off the bench, and lets Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson do most of the scoring. Well, it may not be the best analogy, but you should get why Ryback's suggestion, er, demand, makes so little sense.
3 Jeff Hardy – Wrestling Sting While Drunk
Back in the 1990s, Shawn Michaels wrestled some of the finest matches of his career while he was four sheets to the wind. But not everyone can hide their intoxication like HBK did back in the day, regardless of their talent level, and that was the case at TNA's Victory Road pay-per-view in 2011, when Jeff Hardy showed up for his World Championship match against Sting, drunk as a skunk and in no condition to wrestle. Fans were upset, Sting was upset, and Hardy lost the match in 90 embarrassing seconds.
Of course, TNA management was also upset that one of their top stars showed up at Victory Road in full-on Barney Gumble-of-The Simpsons mode. A few days later, they fired Hardy for that drunken episode. He was back in the company in August 2011, falling short of winning the World title several times until he won it again in October 2012. And to his credit, he's been clean for years, recently revitalized by last year's "Broken" storylines, and this year's return to WWE with his brother Matt.
2 Bret Hart – Joining WCW
As a fan of the Excellence of Execution since childhood, it's hard for me to place Bret Hart in this list. That's especially true if you consider he was unhappy with WWE's raunchier direction, unhappy with the Kliq always getting their way with Vince McMahon, and concerned that Vince wouldn't live up to the terms of the unprecedented 20-year deal he inked him to. But in hindsight, Vince was right – "WCW wouldn't know what to do with a Bret Hart."
When Hart joined WCW in 1997, he was placed in increasingly dumb storylines, turned face and heel without rhyme or reason, and in the end, his career ended prematurely when a Goldberg kick to the head left him with a bad concussion. Worse, WCW still expected him to work through it, until he was finally allowed to rest, then fired for not living up to expectations.
Furthermore, there aren't a few people who think Bret's brother Owen would still be alive today, had Bret not decided to bolt for WCW. It's a sad, yet interesting thought to ponder.
1 CM Punk – Walking Out Of WWE
Okay, I'll probably get a lot of heat for this, but how many of you out there think CM Punk would have been better for swallowing a bit of his pride and staying with WWE, instead of walking out of the company like he did early in 2014? Yes, we can admire him for joining UFC and making such a significant career change given his circumstances. But I'm sure you'd rather see him winning scripted matches on WWE television, rather than see him get pulverized for real by Mickey Gall, like what happened at UFC 203.
At the moment, we don't know if CM Punk is ever going to get a second UFC match, and pitting him against a Tyron Woodley, Robbie Lawler, or Stephen Thompson is, to be honest, an MMA equivalent to a Braun Strowman jobber squash. Punk may be happy and contented now, but from a strictly wrestling-related standpoint, he would have been much better off if he didn't walk away from pro wrestling.