There are countless catchphrases in the WWE Universe and the rest of the sports entertainment business, yet one stands out in particular as true of pretty much every single second of wrestling content: “Never say never.” Slightly specifying this phrase to fit his company, Vince McMahon has slightly tweaked this cliché to “anything can happen in the WWF.” Though this tag line started falling out of favor when his company changed its name, the general concept behind it has remained en vogue, and will probably never go away.
The unpredictability of wrestling has plenty of pros and cons for fans of the industry. While it means viewers will sometimes be disappointed when they don’t get what they expected, other times, the element of surprise is arguably the most important aspect of wrestling. This is good news for fans of wrestlers who looked like they burned their bridges with McMahon or another promoter, because it means the world never knows when a superstar they thought was gone forever is back in a WWE ring.
Of course, not every wrestler is as good at making amends as others, so patterns can repeat themselves and the same worker can find him or herself fired by McMahon on multiple repeat occasions. On the contrary, though, lucky or talented enough performers can turn things around and make getting fired the best career move they’ve ever made. Keep reading and discover 8 wrestlers who blew every chance they got and 7 who actually redeemed themselves.
15 BLEW EVERY CHANCE: Mr. Kennedy
It takes a special charisma for a person to make simply saying their name entertaining, and in that sense Mr. Kennedy/Anderson was indeed a unique talent. Of course, the man was far more than his self-obsessed catchphrase implied, as Kennedy also had considerable chops inside the squared circle, and he proved it in both WWE and TNA. However, neither company wants anything to do with Kennedy today, because of his nonstop abhorrent behavior behind the scenes. After failing to make any friends backstage in WWE, Kennedy did the exact same thing in TNA, and what’s worse, he made a habit of bragging about this fact wherever he went next. Sometimes Vince McMahon can forgive a talent who rubbed him the wrong way, but they need to stop doing that for a second chance. Then again, when even Dixie Carter won’t hire a wrestler, he may as well just give up.
14 FOUND REDEMPTION: Kurt Angle
To most insiders, the moment Kurt Angle lied about suffering exhaustion to leave his WWE contract and jump to TNA also marked the end of his name coming up in Vince McMahon’s empire. Even when Angle was announced as an inductee to the 2017 class of the WWE Hall of Fame, there were people thinking, well, he’s still not coming back in the ring as a regular performer. Lo and behold, mere days later, Angle was announced as the new General Manager of Monday Night Raw, a position that signified a full-time return to the company. Angle hasn’t been back for long, yet its already clear he’s a changed man, a vast improvement over the alcoholic, pill-popping louse he became while working for TNA. Of course, only time will tell how long this version of Kurt Angle sticks around, having only recently made a comeback.
13 BLEW EVERY CHANCE: Sunny
When a woman looks like Sunny, it’s pretty easy for her to get most guys to do whatever the hell she wants. Perhaps this is the attitude that turned Sunny into the person she is today, a shell of her former beauty wrecked by decades of severe drug and alcohol abuse. The saddest thing about Sunny’s downfall is that just about everyone in the wrestling industry tried to help her avoid it. After leaving WWE of her own accord, Sunny tried stints in both ECW and WCW, looking worse for wear in each appearance. She almost made a recovery during a brief WWE return, during which time she became a Hall of Famer, and yet it has been entirely downhill from there, with no upside in sight. At this point, the question isn’t whether or not Sunny can redeem her wrestling career; onlookers are simply hoping she can save her life.
12 FOUND REDEMPTION: Brian Kendrick
After a few years of what could be described as complacency, the rise and fall of Brian Kendrick happened so fast fans may not have noticed it happening. At first, Kendrick was yet another performer in WWE’s original, near-dead cruiserweight division, followed by a nice stint in the tag ranks alongside Paul London. Once that team parted ways, Kendrick looked poised for a major push, developing a cocky attitude and earning some title shots, only to find himself fired in the middle of it. Rampant drug use and questionable behavior were the mainstays of his down time, thus surprising fans immensely when Kendrick returned during the Cruiserweight Classic tournament and quickly stole the show. From then on, Kendrick kept wowing audiences and executives alike, earning a full-time return to WWE and a run as champion of this now-respectable cruiserweight division.
11 BLEW EVERY CHANCE: Umaga
In a sense, he was the Amy Winehouse of wrestling. Umaga was given a very simple choice by WWE, and he brazenly made the wrong decision. At first, this cost Umaga his job, and within a mere six months, he lost his life along with it. Edward Fatu’s initial stint in WWE came as a member of 3-Minute Warning, ending when he got released for his involvement in a bar fight. Several years later he returned as Umaga, a throwback to gimmicks like the ones made popular by his uncles The Wild Samoans. This made Umaga extremely popular, and yet he threw it all away again, this time with his rampant drug use. When WWE confronted Umaga with the news he failed to comply with the Wellness Policy, he outright refused to go to rehab, feeling he’d rather keep up his bad habits than maintain a steady job. An overdose soon followed.
10 FOUND REDEMPTION: The Hardy Boyz
Always living on the edge of extreme, Matt and Jeff Hardy’s various peaks and troughs are all the more amazing due to how fast they seem to happen. Jeff especially seems to fall the hardest immediately after hitting his greatest heights, like when he was arrested for drug trafficking mere days after a run as World Heavyweight Champion. On the flipside, the brothers' total reinvention as Broken versions of themselves has made everyone forget about the multiple DUIs, horrible matches in TNA, and any other problems the Hardys may have suffered. It didn’t hurt that brothers also resumed their practice of wrestling outstanding matches during their stint at Ring of Honor, making it all but inevitable that WWE would eventually beg them to come back. While the Broken gimmick is still tied up in legal jeopardy, Matt and Jeff already proved they don’t necessarily need it to re-climb the ladder of success.
9 BLEW EVERY CHANCE: Kerry Von Erich
To defend Kerry Von Erich before we get into trashing his work ethic, let’s be fair and point out the source of his troubles was always abundantly clear. Like his brothers, Kerry was forced into an industry he had little interest in by a controlling father, who would then in turn make countless bizarre explanations for his sons when they failed to perform up to his standard. When a person works for a family member, it’s almost impossible for them to lose their job, but when Kerry started finding employment outside of Texas, things didn’t go quite as well. Sure, Kerry reigned as both the NWA Champion and WWE Intercontinental Champion, but he didn’t hold either of these belts for long because neither Jim Crockett nor Vince McMahon trusted him. True to form, Kerry never stopped his copious drug use while working for either man, either, making their fears entirely justified.
8 FOUND REDEMPTION: Rhyno
Truth be told, no one is entirely sure what was up with Rhyno between his stint in TNA and his recent WWE return. What is known as that he was at one point arguably the biggest former ECW star working for Vince McMahon, and just about the only extreme wrestler other than Rob Van Dam to earn a high profile during the Invasion. Rhyno’s stock fell pretty dramatically from there, though, until he ran afoul of WWE execs by allegedly getting into a loud backstage argument with his wife. Immediately following this, however, Rhyno appeared in TNA and became the NWA Champion in a manner of months. Oddly, this turned to be his downfall, as he lost the title two days later and gradually started blinking out of existence from there. Five years later, Rhyno was virtually gone from the spotlight entirely, wrestling on the indie scene until his sudden 2015 reappearance in NXT.
7 BLEW EVERY CHANCE: Matt Borne
Whether they called him Matt Borne, Big Josh, or most infamously, Doink the Clown, the skills of the real Matt Osborne were no laughing matter. Before putting on the face paint, Borne was known as “The Maniac” for his wild and unhinged persona, made all the more terrifying by the fact he clearly knew what he was doing when it was time to inflict pain on his victims. Unfortunately, one thing Borne had going against him was a long-term drug problem, which followed him wherever he went. These drug problems got Borne kicked out of WWE and even the far more relaxed ECW, squandering the potential behind brilliant gimmicks he was developing in both companies. Because Borne was apparently unable to clean up his act, neither of those promotions nor any other wanted anything to do with him. By the time WWE was forgiving enough to give him a single return match at a Raw anniversary show, it was far too late.
6 FOUND REDEMPTION: William Regal
For a man who always presented himself with dignity and class, William Regal has one of the most shadowy pasts of any current WWE superstar. Like so many others on this list, it mostly came down to drug and substance abuse problems with Regal, and the issue started way back when he was in WCW. After debuting in a relatively high position, Regal spent most of his tenure working for Ted Turner, slowly gaining weight and losing his precision in the ring. By the time Regal made the initial jump to WWE, he was a shell of the man Vince McMahon thought he was hiring. Regal went through rehab and made a WWE return, slowly building his way up to the main event and getting poised for a run as WWE Champion circa 2008, only to have his drug problems come back in full force, getting him suspended at what should have been the peak of his career. Luckily, Regal was able to undergo rehab a second time, and has resumed his role in the WWE Universe to critical praise.
5 BLEW EVERY CHANCE: Eddie Gilbert
Of all the territorial wrestling stars who failed to survive once Vince McMahon and WWE took over the business, Eddie Gilbert had the best chance at surviving the transition. Unfortunately, the only problem standing in the way of “Hot Stuff” turning into a massive star was Gilbert himself, and his inability to stay in the same place for more than a few months. Gilbert’s one stint in WWE came way too soon, and he was largely treated as a jobber because of it. Once he was a more accomplished worker wowing fans in the NWA and various southern territories, Gilbert proved he was a natural all along, excelling at every aspect of the business. However, he would always get cold feet when offered a real job, no-showing big paydays and running off to some other company instead. With this sort of behavior, WWE was never even interested in Gilbert, causing everyone to miss out on his talents.
4 FOUND REDEMPTION: Jinder Mahal
This might be a good point to ask what exactly it means for a wrestler to redeem themselves. For the most part, this list has presented the idea a WWE superstar needs to do something wrong before getting a second chance, and quite frankly, Jinder Mahal’s only failing during his first run in the company was that he had little skill as a pro wrestler. When he returned several years later, the same fact was largely true, as Mahal showed absolutely no improvement in the ring or on the mic. However, his muscles were a bit bigger, and Vince McMahon (of course) was a huge fan of this shocking development. Out of nowhere, Mahal went from a jobber who got fired for being disposable, to WWE Champion, redefining the very essence of what that honor meant in the process.
3 BLEW EVERY CHANCE: Marty Jannetty
Happily living the mantra “rock, rock till you drop, rock, rock never stops,” Marty Jannetty has had more chances in wrestling than almost anyone else on this list. Granted, he’s also been around a bit longer, having survived the whole Monday Night War era, though this only allowed him to burn bridges at ECW, WCW, and WWE. The first two mostly ignored Jannetty because his drug problems were out of control from the very beginning, but WWE at least tried giving the former Rocker a few extra chances. Ultimately, it was all for naught, as Jannetty would never live up to the expectations people had in him. Although the talent was surprisingly still there at times, the work ethic simply didn’t match it, and Jannetty always found his way back to the dope man before things could really take off for him.
2 FOUND REDEMPTION: Shawn Michaels
Oddly enough, the exact opposite of Marty Jannetty’s story can be found in his former Rocker partner turned rival turned iconic WWE Hall of Famer, the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels. In the beginning, Michaels was just as bad as Jannetty in terms of their drug use, and he might have even been worse. It’s not like HBK stopped doing drugs when his career took off and Jannetty’s started to falter, either, as he remained deeply addicted to painkillers throughout much of his rise to the top of the WWE Universe. What’s worse is that behind the scenes HBK was allegedly a nightmare to work with, annoying his coworkers and employers alike. Thankfully, upon meeting his wife, Michaels realized the drugs weren’t exactly working out for him, mellowing out in just about every way imaginable. Not long afterwards, he returned to WWE, revived his career, and became a legend all over again.
1 BLEW EVERY CHANCE: The Ultimate Warrior
When discussing The Ultimate Warrior, the question isn’t necessarily what he did to mess it up, but rather how he pulled wool over the eyes of so many promoters he even had a shot in the first place. There has never been a wrestler more popular and less talented than Warrior, and that’s before his legendarily horrible attitude comes in to play. Warrior was a bigger star in his own mind than anywhere else, causing him to believe he could force both Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff to pay him extra money for his poor performances, and the business rivals had a rare incident in common by telling Warrior to hit the curb. For whatever reason, McMahon at least kept giving Warrior extra chances, only for them to get ignored with no-shows or demands for more money, followed by bizarrely questionable comments to the media.