Vince McMahon is infamous for his rather…unorthadox behavior with workers. The horror stories of him firing people at a whim or for some crazy offense are plentiful. At the same time, many have cited instances of Vince being surprisingly warm-hearted and open to helping guys out. He has shown great loyalty to people and good favor but most will claim it’s less for good heart and more how folks kiss up to him. Vince himself is the first to acknowledge his massive ego and like many egotists, responds better to praise than creative criticism. Thus, most in WWE know playing nice and such is better for long-term employment rather than fight Vince on a lot of stuff.
But some workers are able to rise up better and clash with Vince. They can refuse to go along with gimmicks, not drop a title or other bits that make them stand out for independence. Sometimes, they pay a price while other times, Vince seems to respect them standing their ground. However, it’s obvious others are in the company just for sucking up to Vince in various ways and harder for fans to respect them for it. Plenty of examples abound for each category but here are the ones that stand out. Here are 8 wrestlers who actually stood up and said no to Vince and 7 who are known for always saying yes to show how working for McMahon is a tightrope.
15 SAID NO: Honky Tonk Man
This was a move that was surprising at the time and would end up making huge waves down the road. The Honky Tonk Man was an okay worker with his Elvis gimmick but hardly what one would call a mega-star. According to legend, he only won the IC title because he was there that night and it was intended as a short run. In September of 1987, HTM was feuding with Randy Savage, catching major heat with fans and most thought he would get the belt. The plan was for Savage to win the title at a big live NBC show in January of 1988. However, HTM realized that without the belt, he’d be on a one-way trip back to the lower rung. So he took advantage of his contract coming up to threaten to jump to Jim Crockett with the title unless Vince agreed to let him keep the belt. While he hated it, Vince agreed and HTM kept the belt.
This would lead to a few more times Honky refused to job which was the reason he was the longest reigning IC champion ever. Finally, he had to agree to drop the belt to The Ultimate Warrior at the first SummerSlam and notable for how he managed to leverage some power over Vince.
14 YES MAN: Triple H
A pretty obvious choice although some say it’s not as huge as you’d expect. Contrary to belief, Triple H was already on his way to stardom before he and Stephanie hooked up. He had the star power from the beginning and pushed more in DX and later great runs as IC champ and WWE champion. But there’s no denying that becoming Vince’s son-in-law meant Hunter had to back Vince on a lot, even stuff he disagreed with. Sometimes, that hurt him as when Scott Steiner was pushed, leading to a horrible feud.
As he moved to a backstage role, Hunter’s connections still kept him in the spotlight as on-air authority figure, beating Sting at Mania and getting another run as champion. However, there are reports Triple H and Vince clash a bit, especially when it comes to NXT talents. But it’s clear Hunter still supports Vince, if only to bide time until he takes over WWE himself and if you can’t count on family to be a yes man, who can you count on?
13 SAID NO: Rob Van Dam
You would think that after doing one of the most massive screw-ups of your career, you’d be eager to please your boss by doing anything. But then, you wouldn’t be Rob Van Damn. In 2006, after years of fan hopes and multiple chances, RVD finally got his due in the big time. He beat John Cena for the WWE title at a hot ECW show and made the new champion of the ECW brand as well. He was riding high but in less than a month, RVD was pulled over for drug possession and WWE had to strip him of both titles and suspend him. So you’d expect him to do anything to get back in the company’s good graces.
Instead, when various stars were chosen to take part in the annual “Tribute To the Troops” show in Iraq, RVD refused. He made it clear it wasn’t politics, he just didn’t feel safe traveling there despite how so many other stars were going to. It was clear he paid for it, losing at the infamous December to Dismember show and was pushed down hard. RVD will claim it was pride but it cost him big time.
12 YES MAN: John Cena
Let’s be clear, Cena is a fantastic athlete. Even his haters have to give credit for his conditioning, being able to go 40 minute matches without breaking a sweat and handle himself against any number of workers. And his star power and charisma are greater than most in the business. However, it has to be noted that much of Cena’s success is because he’s been smart enough to get close to Vince and say the right thing. Cena himself basically acknowledges it in talks of how Vince took a shine to him early on and Cena was smart enough to make sure to use that for his pushes.
Granted, without the talent he brings, Cena couldn’t make that work right no matter the support. However, the fact Cena is willing to back Vince in so much and be WWE’s public face is a key reason he’s still a main event star and face of the company. Again, the man got over on his own a lot yet his championing of most anything Vince says is key to his success.
11 SAID NO: Hulk Hogan
The relationship between Vince and Hogan in the 1980s was truly fascinating. They liked each other, respected each other but weren't really truly friends. Each knew the other was key to making money and keeping WWE on top and put up with some issues and egos the other had. It's notable how many times Hogan would play his political cards to ensure he went over guys and often ensured he came out on top. Supposedly, Mr. Perfect was to win the 1990 Royal Rumble but Hogan refused, wanting to win himself. Likewise, several other guys came out looking worse because Hogan wouldn’t job for them right.
It got worse as Hogan’s power faded, including his run in 1993 to get another title. The plan was for Hogan to lose to Bret Hart at SummerSlam but Hogan had a huge blow-up with Vince and refused to do it. So he lost to Yokozuna instead and left for WCW. Hogan’s return was marked by further bits of refusing to job, notably to Shawn Michaels so while he and Vince got along well for the most part, Hogan had more clout to say no to Vince than others.
10 YES MAN: Michael Hayes
This is a surprise as if there’s one guy you’d figure would never be a yes man, it’s Michael Hayes. In his prime, the leader of The Fabulous Freebirds was infamous for his wild style, a party attitude and never backing down from any fight. Folks loved his rebellious attitude and doing whatever it took to get ahead. Thus, it was shocking when in 1995, Hayes not only joined WWE but totally remade himself. He was Dok Hendrix, shilling merchandise and a commentator and not the wild guy he used to be. He would manage The Hardy Boyz as himself before moving into a backstage role and would soon be known for pushing Vince’s favorites. He managed to keep his job even after stuff like “The Plane Ride From Hell” and making a racist comment to Mark Henry. For a guy who got famous as an anti-authority type, seeing Hayes join “the establishment” was amazing but shows how some guys need to temper with age.
9 SAID NO: Abyss
If there’s one guy in TNA you would think would be perfect for WWE, it’s Abyss. Big and burly but surprisingly skilled, Abyss has set a path in the company with his brutal matches, a true monster and rather popular. He even shows skill with the “Joseph Parks” bit now and then to make it fun. In late 2004, WWE began calling and almost everyone figured Abyss was joining for sure. They made a huge offer and promised he would immediately be pushed into a feud with the Undertaker which just writes itself. TNA seemed to think so too, removing Abyss from their website. But in a surprise, Abyss stayed with TNA and has continued to do so despite more WWE offers. Some might argue he’d be better off in WWE but Abyss wants to stay loyal to TNA and thus notable as a guy who’s turned down a prime spot.
8 YES MAN: Jim Ross
This can be surprising given how Ross has famously had some rows with Vince in public. He’s even been fired, once for not “looking right” after a mini-stroke and again made the fall guy for Ric Flair’s 2014 public rant. However, since joining WWE in 1993, Ross has been one of the company’s most loyal figures. He’s been their public face for many meetings, selling WWE to networks, sponsors and more. Vince has cited Ross as a key figure, everything from cable shows to DVDs to share his bold insight and always ready to push the company line on hot new stars or products.
Some have even criticized Ross for going a bit too far in toeing Vince's line and not standing up to him enough. True, he and Vince have had issues but the fact Ross keeps coming back to the company shows he’s willing to keep doing what Vince says and how “Good Ol' JR” ranks as one of the Vince’s biggest supporters.
7 SAID NO: Owen Hart
For the most part, Owen Hart loved wrestling and didn’t want to make waves. He went along with a lot of bad stuff from the Blue Blazer to New Foundation and other bits that didn’t work out. A great practical joker, Owen was well liked backstage and thus was able to handle things in WWE well. He put up with a lot of stuff and even after Bret was screwed over, Owen stayed with the company. However, in 1999, he did put his foot down massively. At the time, Owen and Jeff Jarrett were tag team champions and plans were for a program of the duo fighting it out over manager Debra with the idea of her sleeping with each man.
Owen went right to Vince to tell him that he didn’t want this storyline as he was a married man and was worried about the impact on his kids. Vince agreed and the storyline was scrapped although this led to Owen taking back the Blazer gimmick and leading to his death, due to a stunt he probably should have said no to.
6 YES MAN: John Laurinaitis
It’s hilarious to see the man known as Johnny Ace as a worker, including the laughable bit where he and a young Shane Douglas were put together as the Dynamic Dudes. After retiring, Laurinaitis joined WWE where he was swiftly nicknamed “John Laryngitis” thanks to his rasping voice. Some have criticized his moves as a talent managers and VP, citing his issues with OVW workers as a reason WWE cut ties to that territory.
Most say John loves to suck it up to Vince and was even happy with a demotion to road agent as long as it meant he could have some influence. Nothing speaks to this more than when he was made an on-air authority figure and then actually put in a main event feud with John Cena. He continues to work out today with many still saying it’s because of how he kisses up to Vince and in that respect he is an “ace” at keeping his job.
5 SAID NO: Jesse Ventura
Jesse’s relationship with Vince was always notable. At first pushed well, Jesse had to retire from in-ring action due to health issues. He moved to commentating and a big star with his great humor and wild outfits. In 1986, he was offered a part in the movie “Predator” with Vince saying no as he needed Ventura for shows. Instead, Jesse went and did the movie with Vince not happy but his popularity kept Jesse employed and WWE even hyping his role in the film. Ventura could have been fired after finding out he’d been trying to organize a wrestling union but was kept on. But finally, in 1990, Ventura left after a big blow-up involving payment. This led to him suing Vince for a breach of contract and actually winning a huge settlement.
They worked together briefly in 1999 when Ventura was governor of Minnesota and he was later used with the XFL. But things got tense again to the point Ventura’s commentary was edited out of releases. Jesse continues to slam Vince a lot and proves how he was one guy not willing to play the company game.
4 YES MAN: Pat Patterson
In his prime, Pat Patterson was a terrific worker, a top notch guy as tag team champion and the first ever Intercontinental champion. He got respect for his good work and winning Vince’s favor. After retiring, Patterson moved into an executive position and many feel he was terrific building up talent. However, he got in hot water over allegations of abuse with workers in 1992 which led to a brief dismissal. He returned and soon pushed as one of Vince’s on-air “stooges” which led to a run as Hardcore Champion. Patterson continues his work with WWE, constantly on DVD interviews and many believe his continuous roles are due to how well he sucks it up to Vince and the “stooge” act not being that far off base. No one can deny Patterson as a WWE mainstay but some will argue it’s less on skill and more on how he helps Vince’s plans along.
3 SAID NO: Sting
For all their ups and downs over the years, WCW could always count on one thing: Sting. Time and again, WWE came calling with major offers, seeing the massive potential in Sting and how his star power was off the charts. But each time, Sting turned them down. Indeed, in 1992, under Bill Watts, Sting actually took a pay cut rather than jump over. Even the arrival of Hulk Hogan in 1994, pushing him down the card, did nothing to drive Sting off. He has talked of how he knew how harsh WWE’s schedule was and didn’t want to be on the road that much. He always was worried of how “they wouldn’t let me be Sting” although hard to see WWE blowing it. When WCW went under, WWE tried again but Sting refused and eventually had a long run in TNA.
Given how badly he was handled when he did come to WWE, one can say Sting was right to refuse them so long but still notable how he was pretty much the one major star of his time to keep turning Vince down.
2 YES MAN: Kevin Dunn
Most don’t know his name but Dunn has been a key player in WWE for years. He is the executive producer of RAW and SmackDown and most think it’s because he sucks up to Vince better than anyone in the company. Jim Cornette has never been known to say anything kind about Dunn, dismissing the man as the exact type to say he agrees with you in private but as soon as Vince says no to an idea, Dunn is right there agreeing with him.
He’s not alone as even Jim Ross and Triple have gone on record talking of issues with Dunn and how he just caters to Vince’s whims. They argue that a key reason ratings are down is that Dunn refuses to adapt to the changing times and is just going by Vince’s somewhat outdated views on how to present TV. They also feel he has too much influence on Vince and even hint that some controversial moves are Dunn’s and Vince goes along with it due to the man’s loyalty. So some can argue Dunn may be more influential on Vince but clearly, Dunn’s kissing up is bigger than anyone in the company.
1 SAID NO: Bret Hart
Bret was a fantastic wrestler and in his prime, a major star. That gave him some clout and he’s famous for ranting on how Shawn Michaels got his way a lot. However, Bret is just as guilty of digging in his heels and often acting up at times. In 1992, he was making noise of jumping to WCW while IC champion so Vince wanted him to drop the belt to the Mountie at a house show. Bret did only on the condition that Vince put out the story he was suffering from the flu so he wouldn't look weak in the loss. Of course, a much deal was 1997 when Bret was going to leave to WCW as WWE champion. Vince wanted him to drop the belt to Shawn at the Survivor Series but Bret was adamant that there was no way he was going to lose in Montreal and not to Shawn.
The back and forth continued with Bret staying firm and so Vince had no choice but to do the Screwjob. Yes, Vince went too far but it was Bret being so unyielding that set this event up.