The wrestling industry is full of stories that include professional and personal casualties and triumphs. These stories include tales of individuals on one end who failed when challenged. On the other end are stories of individuals who overcame adversity and obstacles. Every professional wrestler handles these situations differently.
When it comes to casualties, countless days on the road and as part of the WWE roster can lead to all sorts conflicts and demons. Performers can get caught up in "the life", they can spiral out of control and ultimately, find the worst parts of themselves. Sometimes it's as simple as one bad decision, which spells the end of their wrestling career.
When it comes to triumphs, there are the accounts of performers who changed their negative circumstances. Perhaps they didn't believe in the direction their life or their character was headed. Perhaps their paths forced them into a difficult and risky decision. Whatever the case may be, these performers came out on the other end better for it.
Below is a list of 20 different past and present professional WWE Superstars who had their own issues with or in the professional wrestling business. 10 of these wrestlers couldn't overcome their problems and they slowly found themselves in trouble or fading out of the wrestling picture. The other 10 wrestlers were able to turn things around in a positive direction. By taking control of their environment, they were able to get what they needed for their life as a professional to be on the upswing.
Which 20 wrestlers made the list of the Top-20 most career defining moments? Read on to find out.
20 20: Wrong Decision - Jake "the Snake" Roberts Quits
At the height of Jake's career, he was arguably the WWE's most popular star. Maybe as popular as Hulk Hogan, Jake never needed a title to get over and as such never got the accolades of a champion. Still, Jake knew he was beloved and wrestling success went to his head.
One of the most noted abusers of recreational vices, Jake was prone to making poor decisions. The biggest mistake he admits ever having made was leaving the WWE in the first place. He got into a spat over a writing job and eventually decided to leave and wrestle for WCW. Departing after his loss to The Undertaker at WrestleMania VIII, he arrived in WCW only to find a new ownership group. The new owners didn't like the original deal Jake struck with the previous regime and offered him pennies on the dollar from the deal he thought he was leaving for. Having burnt his bridge with the WWE, Jake had no choice but to accept. His tenure in WCW was forgettable and known as a time in which he would abuse drugs and alcohol regularly. He departed WCW and continued to be haunted by his demons where he eventually wound up on the indy scene making a fool of himself.
19 19: Right Decision - Roberts Trusts DDP
Jake Roberts is the only performer to have made our list twice. Once because of a poor decision that led him down a terrible path. The other because of how far he's come in his recovery. After being broke financially and broken both emotionally and physically, Roberts was close to suicide on a number of occasions. Having reached out to his friend Diamond Dallas Page and committing to working with DDP on his sobriety, Jake has used his friend's guidance and DDP Yoga to make life-changing strides toward bettering himself.
While he's struggled at times, and likely still does, Jake took getting his body back both mentally physically very seriously. He is now on better terms with the WWE, has appeared on broadcasts of Raw and made appearances at special events. He was most recently seen at the WWE Hall of Fame Ceremony prior to WrestleMania 33 where he was supporting his friend — and potentially the person who saved his life — Diamond Dallas Page as Page was inducted into this year's Hall of Fame class. Most importantly, it appears Jake is staying sober.
18 Wrong Decision - Nailz Chokes McMahon
Kevin Wacholz (also known as Nailz) didn't have a long career in the WWE. That said, while he was there, he surely made some stupid decisions.
Nailz was an experienced wrestler, having come from the AWA, but he was legitimately nuts. His WWE contract ended in 1992 after he attacked WWE's boss Vince McMahon over a financial dispute. As Bret Hart tells the story in his documentary, Nailz was unhappy with his financial status, entered Vince's office and took to screaming at McMahon for over 15 minutes. When that didn't work, Nailz choked Vince and went out of his way to hurt him. The incident led to a series of lawsuits.
Somehow, Wacholz got it in his head that it was wise to abuse the Chairman of the WWE and testify as a key witness for the prosecution in a trial that saw McMahon charged over some serious steroid allegations. His obvious hatred for Vince came to light while on trial and Wacholz was deemed a non-credible witness. Vince may have been guilty, but Nailz is the primary reason we may never know if he was or not. Nailz hasn't done much of anything noteworthy in wrestling since.
17 Right Decision - Booker T Leaves WCW Money On The Table
When the WWE bought out WCW, a number of the current WCW roster saw the doors close while they cashed in on guaranteed contracts. Instead of big-name stars like Goldberg, Sting, Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall accepting the invitation to join the WWE and further their on-screen careers, many chose to sit at home and collect the money coming to them from AOL/Time Warner.
Not thinking about the short-term money, Booker T chose to leave WCW before his contract expired. He made the brave decision to give up on his guaranteed money and became the one WCW defector that caught on with the WWE audience. He went on to star in some of the WWE's most entertaining feuds and had a memorable run with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Booker T became a celebrated WWE Superstar and a WWE Hall of Famer.
16 Wrong Decision - Curt Hennig (Mr. Perfect) Picks A Fight
While incredibly experienced both before and after his time in the WWE, Curt Hennig was known to most wrestling fans as Mr. Perfect. He was one of the WWE's most celebrated Intercontinental Champions of all time and one of wrestling's best in-ring workers. Unfortunately, his behavior outside the ring wasn't always perfect.
Hennig had traveled from promotion to promotion, but in 2002, while trying to make a successful return to the WWE, his tendency to partake in recreational bad habits got the better of him. Instead of making the right decision to back off, on a plane from London to the US, Henning was responsible for a scuffle between himself and Brock Lesnar. The whole incident is know referred to as the "Plane Ride From Hell". Hennig misjudged his status in the company as Brock was on his way to becoming a star and as such, Mr. Perfect was released from his contract. Henning never did defeat his demons and the wrestler passed away one year later after being diagnosed with acute cocaine intoxication.
15 Right Decision - Chris Jericho Leaves Sinking Ship
Chris Jericho has documented his arrival in the WWE in a number of ways, but the background story always stays the same. Jericho felt he was being underutilized in WCW and he wanted out. Knowing the WCW never viewed him as a star, they let him leave and he went on to become one of the WWE's biggest superstars. He was one of the first big defectors from a then more powerful WCW.
There is a lot being left out of the story, but the key to remember is, Jericho recognized the writing on the wall in WCW. He saw a terribly mismanaged company and he realized he was never going to get the opportunity he needed and took a risk to make it known to the WWE that he wanted to join them. After an amazing debut, he struggled to adapt but again persevered. This is what Jericho does. He finds a way to fit in and then stand out in the current WWE environment. It's a skill that has been critical to his success as a performer since his debut.
14 Wrong Decision - Rey Mysterio Takes Extended Time Off
A true international superstar, Rey Mysterio was beloved all over the world. As one of the WWE's biggest Hispanic draws, he was given a ton of opportunities including winning the Royal Rumble, then going on to capture the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 22. He was pegged to carry the title as the WWE's ambassador in an attempt to connect with a growing international audience.
Unfortunately, Mysterio decided that he no longer needed the WWE's money and that moving his career to Mexico would have been a better move for him. During some time off "while healing from injuries," he showed up backstage at some of the WWE's competitors promotions in Mexico. At that point, he had already stopped cashing WWE cheques and wasn't overly kind when speaking publicly about them. That didn't sit well with the WWE who decided to auto-renew his contract claiming he was taking too much time off to fulfill his contractual duties. Instead of using him, they let him rot outside of the public eye.
Mysterio is doing OK on the independent scene, but his career was never the same after he decided to go on an extended vacation.
13 Right Decision - CM Punk Pipe Bombs, Then Heads Home
This one spent time in both the wrong decision and the right decision category. Ultimately, it was deemed a right decision because Punk was part of one of the most infamous moments on WWE television and because everyone wants to believe that CM Punk is being honest when he says he's happy with his decision to leave the WWE. A lot of people believe he'll come to regret it.
Over his time in the WWE, Punk felt largely underappreciated and during a segment where he was given an open forum to air his grievances, vocalized what is now known as the CM Punk "Pipe Bomb". It was risky, but it put him over with the WWE Universe in a big way. He became one of the biggest stars the WWE had at the time. Punk eventually walked out on the WWE when he self-diagnosed as too banged up to compete. He didn't give notice, he just up and left, citing his health first and his wrestling career second as the reason he walked away.
While he got destroyed in the fight, he's since gone on to decent payday in the UFC, landed a job as a Marvel comic book contributor and been a frequent television host. He's married to former WWE Diva AJ Lee and doing all right for himself.
12 Wrong Decision - Chyna Goes To Vince About Triple H and Stephanie
Chyna was perhaps the biggest force in women's wrestling. She was legitimately tough enough to be considered for matches with the men, hold titles and be viewed as a big enough heavy that all these storylines were credible. Her problems stemmed from the fact that she had trouble separating work from her personal life.
When her behind-the-scenes relationship with Triple H ended, she went to Vince McMahon, trying to spill the beans on a Triple H and Stephanie McMahon affair. Details of the affair are not truly known, but whether true or not, Chyna wasn't wise enough to realize that Vince would side with his daughter and the WWE released Chyna almost immediately.
After she departed, she chose to pose for Playboy and get into the adult film industry. Those decisions pretty much shut the door for any possible WWE return. Chyna passed away before her and the WWE could ever get back on the same page.
11 Right Decision - Scott Hall Starts Monday Night War, Makes Hall Of Fame
Scott Hall made a few bad decisions, but two very right decisions to warrant being included on the positive side of this discussion. First, Hall became known as the initial impact shot fired in the Monday Night War. A star in the WWE, he defected to WCW for a guaranteed contract. He made huge money, changed the landscape of how wrestlers got paid and brought Kevin Nash and others along for the ride. No Scott Halls means no Monday Night Wars. Some of the best wrestling programs ever produced stemmed from his decision to be one of the first to walk.
Unfortunately, alcohol took over his life and left it in shambles. For this reason, he was known as having made some of the worst decisions in the wrestling world. His drug abuse and alcohol issues destroyed his career, made a ton of people worry and ended his marriage.
In 2013, Hall went to working with DDP to turn his life around. He worked hard to get sober and was inducted into the WWE Hall-of-Fame in 2014.
10 Wrong Decision - Carlito Decides He's Too Cool To Communicate His Issues Privately
Carlito was once an Intercontinental Champion, United States Champion and the only wrestler to win a championship on two separate debuts in WWE. His lack of success was not because the WWE didn't give him opportunities. He even had backstage heat with other wrestlers over the sheer amount of opportunities he'd successfully squandered.
Despite all of this, Carlito was vocal about his displeasure over the way he was booked during his time with the WWE. He publicly made comments about his perceived lack of direction and made no qualms about what he thought about his employer. His words were not often kind in nature and he did all this despite Vince McMahon trying to work with him personally. It was a bad career move and that career eventually ended when he violated the WWE’s Wellness Program and refused to attend a rehabilitation facility. One might think that coming from such a rich heritage of wrestlers he'd have known better — apparently not.
9 Right Decision - Hogan Goes Hollywood
When Hulk Hogan joined the WCW, he made them legit. The WCW brand immediately became a serious contender in the wrestling world. Unfortunately for Hogan, there was a reason WWE let him walk. His light was dimming in the eyes of wrestling fans and his gimmick was getting old. His popularity was fading.
Cue Kevin Nash and Scott Hall who were red hot acquisitions for WCW. They needed a third man to join their stable and in a spot that was originally opened up for Sting, Hogan saw an opportunity to shock the wrestling world. He worked out the details with Eric Bischoff, took a risk to throw away years of working to perfect his old gimmick and he turned on wrestling fans. He joined the NWO and prolonged his wrestling career by another decade, making millions in the process. This is probably one of the best-timed storyline turns in the history of the industry.
8 Wrong Decision - The Ultimate Warrior Holds Up McMahon
There was a time that The Ultimate Warrior was seen as the wrestler best deemed to take over and carry the mantle for Hulk Hogan. Booked to pass the torch, Hogan laid down for the Warrior at WrestleMania VI despite feeling like The Ultimate Warrior wasn't reliable or ready. Warrior proved Hogan correct on multiple occasions.
At the peak of his popularity, The Ultimate Warrior tried to hold-up Vince McMahon for increased pay immediately prior to entering his match at Summerslam in 1991. Warrior self-deemed himself as, if not more, important than Hogan. Agreeing to the Warrior's demands, Vince did what was required to get the star to appear on the show. Following the event, Vince suspended him. The Ultimate Warrior promptly quit and never had the same beneficial relationship with the WWE again.
Over the years that followed, the Warrior made returns, but those returns always revolved around money or ended poorly. Jim Hellwig (the name of the performer who played The The Ultimate Warrior) was so entrenched in that character, he legally changed his name to Warrior. It took until his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame for them to get back on the same page. He passed away shortly thereafter.
7 Right Decision - Lesnar Goes UFC
Brock Lesnar was set to be a star. He was everything a wrestling promoter dreams about. Problem was, Brock hated traveling. As such, in an effort to find other ways to carve out a viable career, he turned first to the NFL. When that failed, he went to the UFC.
In a matter of months, Lesnar took that sport by storm, captured the UFC Championship and made himself a household name. In a sport that has a relatively short shelf-life, Lesnar also managed to make himself an extremely hot commodity in the wrestling world and the WWE threw the bank at him to come back on a part-time schedule. He's since retired from the UFC (made one unexpected return for a huge payday) and is now extending his life as a WWE performer on a schedule that works for him. Lesnar is truly the defintion of a WWE Superstar who wanted his cake and is ate it too. He took a gamble and left at the height of his wrestling career. It paid off in spades.
6 Wrong Decision - Madusa Trashed Women's Title
In the heyday of the Monday Night War, WCW did just about anything it could think of to undermine the WWE. One such move included convincing Madusa (then Alundra Blayze in the WWE) to bring her women's title with her to Nitro upon signing her new deal. Madusa agreed and was convinced to throw the title into the garbage on live tv.
The move made quite the statement. Unfortunately for Madusa, it became what her career was known for. She was essentially blacklisted from the WWE for years and even when the two sides mended fences and she was being celebrated as a WWE Hall of Fame inductee, her acceptance revolved more about that moment than it did her entire wrestling career. That moment on Nitro should be seen as one of the biggest short-term gains, but long-term blunders in all of women's wrestling.
5 Right Decision - Triple H Marries Into The Family
Let's hope that Triple H and Stephanie have a marriage based on love, respect and family and not one based on opportunity, but it's hard to deny how the decision to marry Stephanie McMahon hasn't paid off handsomely for "The Game." Formerly tied to Chyna, it's not like Triple H was the ladies man of the WWE. His timing is impeccable, however.
To Triple H's credit, he's a human sponge for the wrestling business. He loves it more than almost anything and Vince McMahon has entrusted Triple H and Stephanie to one day run the WWE. That's no small feat for a wrestler who was at one time in Vince's doghouse over the infamous "Curtain Call" at Madison Square Gardens.
Triple H's decision to work his way into the corporate landscape at the WWE could be the one career-altering decision that pays off over the longest timeframe.
4 Wrong Decision - Bret Hart Refuses to Lose Title
Bret Hart is and was a beloved professional wrestler. He was, at one time, arguably one of Canada's biggest celebrities. He was also the face of the WWE for many years as the company struggled to fight back against the advances of a rival WCW.
The story of the Montreal Screwjob is much more detailed, but to summarize... in financial peril, Vince asked Bret Hart to reconsider taking a job in WCW because Vince couldn't afford to pay Bret's new contract out. Vince told Bret it would cripple the WWE while trying to stay afloat. Bret's first bad decision was not working something out if he believed Vince to be telling the truth. His second bad choice was agreeing to take the WCW offer, but not give up the title he currently held in WWE.
Vince had no choice but to lie and cheat the title off Bret Hart at the Survivor Series. Bret went to WCW, struggled and eventually retired thanks to an errant kick by Goldberg. He was never the same and is now often seen as a bitter old retired wrestler with nothing nice to say about the new crop of WWE performers. Vince became the biggest heel in wrestling and the WWE bounced back financially and bought out WCW.
3 Right Decision - Rocky Maivia Takes Communication Class
One might wonder what The Rock did to make the list as someone who had a career defining decision. His decision was actually a small one that paid huge dividends.
When The Rock debuted as Rocky Maivia, the WWE had big plans for the third generation star. Unfortunately, the fans wanted none of it. He was vanilla and boring and his promos were almost unwatchable. Maivia decided to take some communication classes. He returned with a new name, new cocky attitude and spoke about himself in the third person. He immediately became one of the most interesting personalities on television and is now known as one of the greatest promo cutters ever. He's also Hollywood's biggest movie star. Not bad for a boring babyface who decided to learn one skill well and implement it.
2 Wrong Decision - Jeff Hardy Shows Up Impaired
There weren't many superstars that captured an audience like Jeff Hardy did. His future was filled with so much potential it was unbelievable he found a way to screw it up. Hardy abused all sorts of recreational stimulants and his demons spilled over into his wrestling career.
During a pay-per-view match with Sting in TNA Wrestling, Hardy arrived impaired, struggled to get down the aisle, into the ring and prepared for the match. Sting ended the contest quickly to ensure neither party ended up injured and Hardy was suspended. Jeff's issues derailed any potential comeback until just this year when he finally returned to the WWE.
Jeff Hardy has claimed he made a mistake, but also that he was happy away from the WWE. He's glad to be back, but his battle with his demons and his inability get them under control cost him millions.
1 Right Decision - Ringmaster to Stone Cold Bad Ass
Steve Austin was not new to wrestling when he joined the WWE. He was part of the Hollywood Blondes in WCW and after being unceremoniously released by WCW, made his way to ECW where he became an extremely popular loud-mouth for Paul Heyman who was happy to abuse WCW on television.
Making very little money in ECW, Austin happily joined the WWE in 1996 as the Ringmaster. He was a project of The Million Dollar Man, but had very little effect on a WWE audience until he was allowed to change his name to 'Stone Cold" Steve Austin. He dropped the Million Dollar Dream as a finisher, took on a more cocky attitude and blasted Jake 'The Snake' Roberts for his religious views at a King of the Ring pay-per-view.
His catchphrase "Austin 3:16 Says I Just Whooped Your Ass" caught on like wildfire and he became the most over WWE Superstar in the history of the company. Today he is retired but is known as the highest grossing merchandise seller of all-time. And, all of this stems from his asking if he could drop the Ringmaster character and be himself.