As fans know, WWE is not like real-life professional sports. The wrestling is choreographed, the storylines are written up and planned long ahead before they actually happen. Even though WWE is simply theater, it doesn’t mean that everything is as normal as you’d think. They actually have endured plenty of scandals and controversies outside of the ring that left a dark cloud hovering over the company.
Vince McMahon built a global phenomenon over 30 years ago and it’s changed the industry of sports entertainment forever. WWE remains the biggest wrestling promotion on the planet, and it’s not even close. But the WWE has been far from perfect. Many of their wrestlers have gotten into trouble, some storylines drew major heat and the owner himself made some rather odd decisions that landed him in hot water.
As we near the year of 2017, it’s a good time to…reflect on the past! So how has WWE changed over the past 20 years? With scandal, of course. Here are the biggest WWE scandal of each year from 1997 to 2016.
1997: Montreal Screwjob
WWE itself called it the biggest controversy of the company’s history.
For those of you who forgot or simply haven’t heard, here’s what happened. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were two of Vince McMahon’s top stars. The two didn’t get along in the ring or outside of it, refusing to put each other over. In 1996, Hart signed a 20-year contract with WWE. But as 1997 came around, McMahon was losing to WCW in the Monday Night War, told Hart he couldn’t afford the contract, and he could simply jump ship to the rival company. Hart reluctantly obliged, but had to finish his career in WWE on a high note.
Hart, the WWE Champion, was to beat Michaels at Survivor Series 1997 in his home country (in Montreal). However, McMahon, Michaels, Triple H, and referee Earl Hebner conspired to double-cross Bret. As Michaels put Hart in the Sharpshooter, McMahon forced Hebner to signal the bell to be rung. Hart never tapped out, spat on McMahon, knocked him out backstage, and Mr. McMahon’s evil side was revealed to the world.
1998: Undertaker and Mick Foley Hell in a Cell
With WCW and WWE going neck-and-neck in the ratings battle, McMahon needed to find a way to make his programming more worth watching. Mick Foley came to WWE as Mankind, and faced off against The Undertaker at King of the Ring, in a Hell in a Cell match.
Behind the scenes, Foley was willing to put his life on the line in two dangerous stunts. During the match, ‘Taker threw him off the top of the cell (16 feet) onto the announce table. That was only the start of it.
Back on the top of the Cell, The Undertaker Chokeslammed Mankind through the roof of the cage, and Mankind fell through it and into the ring. That part actually wasn’t supposed to happen, and Foley was almost killed in the incident. When all was said and done, he had a concussion, lost teeth, and the legacy of a lifetime. But not without almost dying in two horrifying stunts.
1999: Owen Hart’s Death
Owen Hart was one of the biggest up-and-coming stars of the WWE during the late ’90s. Though his big brother, Bret, bolted for WCW (you know why, by now), Owen stayed loyal to Vince McMahon and tried to maintain the strong tradition of the Hart wrestling family in WWE. In 1999, Hart was in his Blue Blazer gimmick and was set to face The Godfather for the Intercontinental Championship at the Over the Edge Pay-Per-View in Kansas City.
As part of his character, Hart was to come down from the rafters on a harness. The plan was for him to “accidentally,” fall as he entered the ring for comedic purposes. Hart had done the stunt before, but wasn’t comfortable doing it again, but Vince McMahon talked him into it.
Tragically, the worst everyone feared would end up happening. Hart accidentally released himself too early and he fell 78 feet and would die. Jim Ross was forced to tell the live television audience that he passed that night, putting a hole in all our hearts.
2000: Triple H and Stephanie McMahon Become One
The two most powerful people in WWE not named Vince are set to inherit the company’s throne when Vince steps down. But if Triple H and Stephanie McMahon never became a couple, it’s anybody’s guess just where the wrestling industry would be today.
You see, Triple H was one of the top stars in the WWE when he formed D-Generation X with his buddy, Shawn Michaels. Chyna, Triple H’s off-screen girlfriend and on-screen valet, was also part of the faction. Behind the scenes, however, Triple H began to fall in love with Stephanie.
This caused a love triangle battle, and Chyna was let go from the company. The Game and Stephanie didn’t mention her until her tragic passing this past April. Triple H and Stephanie became an official couple in 2000 and married in 2003. The two remain a driving force in the company’s success today, and have three children together.
2001: Vince Buys ECW and WCW
McMahon was in huge danger of falling out of the wrestling industry. Eric Bischoff made it his mission to put Vince out of business, but a bunch of problems caused WCW to go into a financial disaster, and the company ran out of steam. The emergence of Paul Heyman’s ECW hardcore wrestling company also turned fans away from the dying WCW product.
So what did Vince McMahon do? He simply bought out his competition and turned everything into one giant product. He bought WCW from Ted Turner and got all the rights to their videos and took on most of their star wrestlers. He bought out ECW and brought in Paul Heyman as one of WWE’s lead writers and to be the General Manager of SmackDown.
Suddenly, wrestling fans from all over the world didn’t have three different wrestling promotions to choose from. They had one. They had to take it or leave it. Ever since this purchase, only TNA has risen as a “competition rival,” to Vince. That hasn’t lasted.
2002: Steve Austin Leaves WWE
Stone Cold Steve Austin has to be recognized as the key reason why WWE became relevant again in the ’90s even though most people were watching WCW instead. But Vince McMahon wanted to shift to more adult-oriented products, and had The Texas Rattlesnake become his next big thing.
Austin was an instant success. His brash, beer-drinking style, ways of embarrassing McMahon, and his rather vulgar character helped WWE gain significant momentum. Before we knew it, WWE was on top and Austin was the biggest wrestling star on the planet.
In 2002, Austin was getting sick of the angles he was booked in and often refused to work in them. When all was said and done, Austin walked out of the company on a rather sour note. Eventually, Austin would return for (unbeknownst to fans) his retirement match against The Rock at WrestleMania XIX.
2003: Dawn Marie/Al Wilson Segment
Thank goodness I’m typing this out. If I had to do this on broadcast, it’d be nearly impossible not to get sick from telling you about it.
So in 2003, Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie formed the best Diva’s rivalry on the SmackDown brand. Both were beautiful and put on a clinic of great matches. But then this really bad idea by the writers came along that we really wish would never happen and have no idea how Al Wilson went on board with it.
Dawn Marie tried to get back at Torrie Wilson by marrying her father, Al. The two then did a lot of adult stuff which led to him dying of a heart attack. There was even a memorial for him on an episode of SmackDown. By the way, Wilson was actually fine and in perfect health. We have no clue how anyone was convinced into doing this.
2004: Lita’s Miscarriage
Another storyline that causes us to be disgusted.
Lita was in a real-life (and on-screen) relationship with Matt Hardy, but Kane was in love with her too. The two had a match at the 2004 edition of SummerSlam, with the winner getting to have her hand in marriage. Of course, Kane won the match and Lita was forced to marry The Big Red Machine.
In storyline, Lita was pregnant with Kane’s baby, having done so in order to prevent Kane from attacking Hardy. Then one day, Gene Snitsky hit Kane with a chair, and he fall on top of Lita which caused a miscarriage. Snitsky changed his character and theme, saying “it wasn’t his fault.” He had a segment where he punted a baby doll into the crowd to mock Lita. Considering miscarriage is a real-life tragedy people endure, this was never something the crowd bought.
2005: Muhammad Hassan Terrorist Angle
As you know by now, Vince McMahon has come up with so many ridiculous angles we just can’t understand the brilliance that he clearly saw. In 2005, we were introduced to Muhammad Hassan, a wrestler who was supposed to be a terrorist and anti-American that feuded with the company’s top wrestlers.
In a sick terrorist plot, The Undertaker was attacked by Hassan and a pair of men donning ski masks and khakis. He was then carried away. Three days later, the tragic London bombings occurred, making this whole angle just look absolutely ridiculous. Given how much terrorism has destroyed our world today, this was no laughing matter.
2006: No Mercy Nudity Scandal
2006, for the most part, was a quiet year for WWE. D-Generation X was reformed, Edge went on his epic run as the company’s top heel, and WWE was reaching the height of the Ruthless Aggression Era. But, there was one dark moment for the company, McMahon and the fans that we’d love to forget.
In a scripted segment, William Regal confronted Vito backstage. The latter was wearing dresses as part of his character, and Regal went to voice his displeasure over it. But during a scripted scene, Regal ran away and his towel falling off, showing his bare bottom. THAT part was supposed to happen, but the cameras accidentally caught a quick glimpse of his…guy thing.
2007: Chris Benoit’s Murder-Suicide
There almost aren’t any words for this incident.
Chris Benoit was one of the WWE’s most decorated wrestlers. He won the World Heavyweight Championship against Triple H at WrestleMania XX and embarked on a memorable feud. The fans loved him for being an underdog story (5-feet-11, and was an afterthought in WCW).
In 2007, the world learned absolutely tragic news. Benoit, his wife Nancy, and their son Daniel were found dead in the family home. It was later revealed that Benoit had killed both of them before taking his own life. Upon autopsies, it was revealed that Benoit’s brain was completely damaged and likely turned him into the family-killing monster we never thought would ever exist.
To make matters worse, WWE had a tribute show for him on the episode of Raw that followed the events. Once they found out he was the culprit of all three deaths, they did everything to remove his name from the company.
2008: Vince McMahon Gives Away Millions
Vince McMahon is all about the money. He wouldn’t bring back guys like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, and part of that was because of the money. On the flip side, he’s brought back old wrestlers (hello Goldberg) for the sake of making a quick buck. Or a million quick bucks.
In 2008, this ridiculous storyline came to place where McMahon was offering to give away a large amount of his cash. He told fans that he would call contestants, and if they could guess the correct password on WWE.com, they would win money. A bunch of fans called in and were given hundreds of thousands of dollars. This didn’t really sit well. It was Mr. McMahon’s way of rubbing in how much money he had, and made people like me wish we had that kind of dough.
2009: Jeff Hardy’s Decline
Jeff and Matt Hardy were arguably the coolest tag team WWE had put together during the Attituda Era. Once the two broke off and engaged in singles competition, Jeff had emerged as one of the WWE’s top faces. In 2009, he was in a feud with CM Punk for the World Heavyweight Championship.
Punk took the title at SummerSlam, and challenged Hardy for one more match. It would be a title match inside a Steel cage, with the loser having to leave the WWE. Hardy predictably lost the match, but this was done so he could take time off to rest some real-life injuries he was dealing with.
Just after he left WWE, Hardy was arrested for multiple drug possessions, which included steroids. By this time, WWE had a strict Wellness Policy in place. Hardy is a star in TNA, but has still battled through alcohol and drug addictions. There’s almost no chance WWE will bring him back at this point.
2010: Daniel Bryan Gets Fired and Rehired
Daniel Bryan came onto the WWE scene in 2010 as a member from NXT. He didn’t need long to get over with the crowd. But the legend of Bryan and the “YES” movement almost never happened to begin with.
In 2010, Bryan became “too violent,” when wrestling. He choked ring announcer Justin Roberts with his own tie and attacked John Cena in a matter that was too, well, real. He didn’t stick to the choreographed part of wrestling. WWE felt remorse for Bryan, apologizing for the firing but telling him they didn’t have a choice.
Upon fan pressure, WWE chose to bring him back in 2010. That’s when he started to rise as one of the company’s top babyfaces. He brought fans to their feet for years, before becoming General Manager of SmackDown.
2011: CM Punk Unloads on Cena and the WWE
John Cena has undoubtedly been this generation’s Hulk Hogan. He’s the wrestler who the kids grew up idolizing. He’s the one who had all of the WrestleMania moments. Cena is the one who sold millions worth of merchandise and was the true icon of the WWE. But that didn’t seem to sit well with CM Punk.
During the June 27, 2011 episode of Raw, Punk shot out a promo where went off on John Cena and the WWE. He accused Cena of sucking up to Vince McMahon the way Hulk Hogan did and called himself the best wrestler in the world. Punk talked about how untouchable he was and how unfair it was that he wasn’t put on Cena’s level and wasn’t treated that special.
2012: John Cena’s Divorce
As we’ve already mentioned, Cena has been the top star of the WWE for many years now. Before WrestleMania 21, Stone Cold Steve Austin passed the torch over to him, signalling that Cena’s time was now. If you get my drift.
The main reason everybody loved Cena was because of how he was the perfect role model for kids. His character was all about giving respect, teaching loyalty, and fighting against the bad and evil. He does so much charity work and helps out sick kids. It was almost as if he was the perfect human being. But in 2012, Cena divorced from his wife, Elizabeth Huberdeau. A divorce shouldn’t always destroy one person’s reputation, but the rumors backstage have gone that he was cheating on his wife. Cena allegedly had affairs with Divas such as Mickie James, prompting the divorce.
2013: Jim Ross Gets Fired/Retires?
Good ol’ J.R. will always be recognized as the voice of WWE. The man just had that style that Michael Cole (sorry, sir) has not been able to match. Ross made every match sound like it was bigger than the Super Bowl. His catchphrases and way of delivery made him the most beloved announcer in the industry.
During an event that promoted WWE2K14, Ross appeared to be drunk. He was arguing with Mick Foley, used a lot of poor language and was stirring things up during the event. Ross then announced that he had retired from the company, but the rumors suggested that Vince McMahon had fired him for that behaviour. Both men have maintained that J.R. chose to leave on his own terms.
Then again, we’ve been told a lot of lies by WWE. Whether he resigned or got fired, Ross’ departure has been a hard one for WWE fans to accept, given how most seem to want Cole replaced.
2014: CM Punk Leaves WWE
As we’ve learned with so many great wrestlers, it’s hard not to have an ego. Why has Hulk Hogan left the WWE three times, prior to being fired in 2015? He knows he’s the biggest wrestler Vince McMahon has ever had. So if McMahon isn’t going to treat him right, why would he want to stay?
But for CM Punk, it’s a rather different scenario. McMahon had a lot of faith in him and was pushing him as one of the company’s top wrestlers. But Punk had enough of the company and didn’t show up to perform on the January 27, 2014 episode of Raw.
Punk allegedly walked out because he was promised to headline WrestleMania XXX, but those plans fell apart. Punk and McMahon fired shots at one another, with the former saying he would never return to WWE. Punk officially got fired on his wedding day to Diva AJ Lee.
2015: Hulk Hogan’s Racism Scandal
Hulk Hogan was like Cena: Charismatic, the wrestler of his generation, sold ridiculous merchandise like there was no tomorrow, and brought millions of fans to their feet every time he showed up. Even if he was a heel.
But sadly, we learned a bad side of Hogan. In July 2015, a tape was leaked of The Hulkster using racial slurs towards black people. WWE quickly fired Hogan and removed every mention of him from their website. Toy companies stopped making Hogan action figures and stores took them off their shelves.
Hogan has publicly apologized and begged for forgiveness. Some have forgiven him for his biggest mistake, while others have turned their backs on Hogan for life. This comment was a huge blemish for WWE, and they had no choice but to cut ties with the icon that made them.
2016: Paige and Alberto Del Rio
Paige is one of the WWE’s top female Superstars. Her career with the company is in jeopardy. Alberto Del Rio was one of the WWE’s top heels in two different stints. His time in the WWE is probably over. For good.
The two are a happy couple, but both have been suspended by the WWE for violating its Wellness Policy. Del Rio left the company in August and Paige may soon leave her employers for her now fiancee. Their recent engagement hasn’t been a smooth one. Paige’s father has spoken about his disapproval of Del Rio. However, Del Rio hasn’t finalized his divorce with ex-wife, Angela Velkei.
Everything appears to be a mess involving these two in the WWE. Both broke the Wellness Policy and Paige may leave because of Del Rio’s departure. It’s been one giant soap opera for fans to follow.
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