WWE fans are intense. Now I’m not talking about the casual fans who tune in on TV or even show up to live events just occasionally. I’m talking the people out there who positively can’t get enough wrestling. The people who are always looking to know more about what’s happening on the inside. The people who don’t just follow all the match results, but also the news and rumors from backstage in not just WWE, but all wrestling promotions.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that 30 years ago, this would hardly even be possible for the hardcore fans. The wrestling industry’s commitment to kayfabe, maintaining the illusion of reality, likely meant that backstage details stayed backstage. The fact that hardcore fans of wrestling yearn for details that traditionally were strictly off limits speaks to how devoted they are to professional wrestling. They’re not keen to just know who wins each week. They want to know why.
For the most part, backstage stories and shoot interviews just give fun details about the wrestlers or other backstage personalities. But sometimes, the fans come across stories a little more…disturbing. Things that make the backstage environment in WWE look like a horror show. Things that, while important to know to understand the why of what happens, make you wonder if we’d all have been better off not knowing.
What exactly am I talking about? I’m glad you asked. Here’s 15 things we learned about WWE behind the scenes over the past decade that are profoundly disturbing.
15 Strict Announcer Rules
There are a number of things many WWE fans hate about the commentary team. Whether it’s certain commentators who don’t seem to contribute much (looking at you, David Otunga), or simply the three-man booth itself feeling too crowded, especially with how often WWE likes to put wrestlers on guest commentary. But by far the biggest complaint is how forced some of the commentary seems. And it turns out there’s a good reason why.
A few years ago, now infamous photos leaked of an eight page list of rules and instructions the announcers should follow. Anything with that long of a job description is going to feel forced, especially with how oddly specific some of them are. Like specifically emphasizing replays with “oh”s and “ah”s, or being topical for no other reason than making the product feel more real. Ironically, the rule sheet repeatedly talks about how the audience can tell when commentary is forced.
You don’t say!
14 Banned Words
An extension of the previous entry, the leaked announcer rules also detailed lists of words WWE personnel are specifically instructed to avoid. These “banned” words have become infamous in their own right, even moreso than all the other rules. But just like those other rules, what really makes them strange is how specific and seemingly arbitrary many of them are.
While there’s understandable ones like emphasizing the prestige of championship titles by refusing to call them “belts” or “straps”, there’s plenty of senseless ones like never say “hospital”, “feud”, or, and I’m not making this up, “professional wrestler”. That’s the one I imagine disturbs people the most. Essentially, it means WWE superstars aren’t allowed to call a spade a spade about their own damn profession. What kind of workplace must that be?
13 Vince McMahon Gives Announcers Live Instructions
Just when you thought being a WWE announcer couldn’t get more demanding and stressful, there’s this little nugget about how the commentary team is managed. Vince McMahon is a bit of a control freak and likes things to go exactly the way he planned. And as far as commentary is concerned, he gets very hands on. As in he listens in on everything they say, and will even talk to them through their headsets to give them instructions and feedback.
And this isn’t just a rumor. Pretty much every former announcer in WWE has spoken candidly about it in interviews, including Jim Ross, the one commentator in history you’d think wouldn’t need to be on a leash. There was even a leaked pre-production version of a 2014 episode of SmackDown (back when it was pre-recorded and not live) where we can hear Michael Cole talking back to Vince McMahon about a request he made. (NSFW language)
12 Michael Hayes’ Racism Barely Punished
If you’re like me and first tuned into WWE at the height of the Attitude Era, the current product is jarringly different from the way you first discovered it. Around 2008, WWE started rushing to become more family friendly, starting the “PG Era”. With it came a taming of the on-screen product and the “Be A Star” anti-bullying publicity campaign. But this sensitivity about content and behavior doesn’t seem to apply to one employee in particular.
Michael Hayes was a wrestler in the 80s and 90s, but today he’s a higher up in WWE, supposedly because of a close personal relationship with the McMahons. And since being given such a powerful position, he’s been involved in multiple incidents of using racial slurs towards wrestlers of color. But in response, WWE either outright ignored these incidents, or could only be bothered to suspend him, but still with pay. Turns out being family friendly is important to the McMahons, but not as important as looking out for their friends.
11 Alberto Del Rio’s First Departure
Every wrestling promotion has its top guys. You know, the main event wrestlers who are almost symbolic for the promotion. They’re usually guys who have been with the promotion for a long time and aren’t leaving any time soon. Everyone else, they tend to jump around between promotions more, whether because they’re unsatisfied with the promotion, or the promotion is unsatisfied with them. But there’s always a good horror story to be found. Like what happened to Alberto Del Rio in 2014.
According to Del Rio, the Mexican superstar’s first departure from WWE stemmed from a backstage incident with a social media manager. The employee apparently told a racist joke in a conversation that Del Rio overheard, and he demanded an apology for the offensive remark. But when no apology came, Del Rio took matters into his own hand and slapped the staffer. When the higher ups found out about the incident they handled it by firing Del Rio. Yes, he was fired for standing up to racism. Suddenly Michael Hayes keeping his job isn’t surprising at all.
10 Shane McMahon Used To Make Writers Take Bumps
Shane McMahon has always been looked at as the most level-headed of the billion dollar family. He’s almost universally loved by the locker room, and of course, he isn’t afraid to get his own hands dirty inside the ring, so he never seems arrogant or above it all. But even he can get a bit on the crazy side sometimes. I mean, we’re talking about someone who’s known almost exclusively for taking death defying bumps every time he gets in the ring.
One of the more questionable things we’ve found out about Shane O’Mac is that he embraced the idea that backstage personnel should identify with the wrestlers more than you probably realized at first. As in for a time at the start of the century, he used to insist that writers learn how to take bumps. In an interview, former writer Brian Gewirtz recounted a story where after a SmackDown taping had been cancelled, Shane implored him to get in the ring with The Dudley Boyz and take a top rope powerbomb. And he did.
9 Strictly Scripted Promos
One of the biggest problems with the WWE product for the better part of the last ten years has been the fact that most wrestlers’ voices feel unnatural. Where you used to have a group of the most charismatic people you’ll ever meet, you now mostly have men and women who whenever they get on the mic, you wonder if it’s the first time they’ve ever spoken in public. Well turns out the reason they all feel like they’re reading off a script, is because they are.
Traditionally, wrestlers when told to do a promo, were simply given an outline of the general idea of what they should say, and it’s their job to fill in the rest. But because of pressure from sponsors, WWE now micromanages the exact words they will say in the promo. A few years back a script for a RAW show was leaked, and indeed a John Cena promo in the script read almost word for word the same as what he’d said in his promo that week.
8 Backstage Bullying
Now, finding out that an athletic locker room engages in hazing is about as unsurprising as finding out your parents had sex at some point in their lives. It’s a little less forgivable though, when we’re talking about a company that has an ongoing anti-bullying campaign. Really makes the message seem insincere. While for the most part, this seems to be an artifact of the Attitude Era and it has calmed down since, there’s still some disturbingly recent stories coming out.
Easily the most infamous bully backstage is JBL, and just a few months ago, he was all over wrestling news for it. Speculation ran wild that his bullying was the reason Mauro Ranallo temporarily left WWE, and in the discussion, many others stories came out, like the time he supposedly stole Justin Roberts’ passport while they were on a European Tour. And as far as we know, nobody has ever been punished for such bullying, with some even going so far as to say the backstage environment encourages it.
7 Stephanie McMahon Punishing Writers For Being “Marks”
In wrestling terminology, “marks” are fans who know about the inside dealings of the wrestling industry, even though traditionally they’re supposed to suspend their disbelief and just enjoy the show. Over time, “mark” has become a pretty derogative term in wrestling, mostly because they tend to be snooty and arrogant. But sometimes it really just is enthusiasm and appreciation for what the wrestlers do. Stephanie McMahon however, doesn’t see it that way.
Stephanie takes more to her father in this regard, being a traditionalist who thinks only the wrestlers themselves should talk about “bumps” or “botches” or any number of insider terms. And she used to take it way too far. Former writers discuss stories where if Stephanie caught them speaking “like a mark”, she would chastise them and often make them publicly apologize to the entire locker room. Are you starting to see why most people prefer Shane?
6 Bill DeMott
At a certain point, bullying simply doesn’t describe it anymore. We usually talk about bullying being abusive, but not blatantly criminal. What we’re talking about here crosses the line.
Bill DeMott is a former wrestler who signed on with WWE as the head trainer in 2011, working on the Tough Enough series and FCW before moving into the Performance Center when it opened. However, he was let go in 2015 after accusations of misconduct from former wrestlers and fellow trainers starting piling up. And boy are the reports ugly.
Violations include unreasonably dangerous drills, outright physical abuse, using homophobic slurs, and sexual harassment for good measure. This is a guy who’d been the head trainer in the company for four years. It really makes you question employee oversight in WWE.
5 Only McMahons Are Allowed To Eat During Meetings
Not surprisingly, regular meetings between the writers and executives are needed in order to put together each show. And the sheer amount of content WWE puts out means these meetings can go for a long, long time. So you’d think there sometimes has to be lunch breaks, right? Clearly, we have not made it obvious enough that the McMahons’ sanity could best be described as questionable. The answer is no, plus it gets worse.
Like a cat toying with the mouse before she finally kills it, the McMahons not only don’t let the writers eat during the meetings no matter how long it goes, they also openly eat in front of them. They’re like that terrible friend that can’t stop reminding you how delicious their chocolate cake is when they know you’re on a diet. At this point it’s a wonder that the employees don’t rise up and slay the McMahons.
4 Accusations Of Neglect By Doctors
Professional wrestlers is still incredibly dangerous work, even if it is a work. Getting thrown from the top rope onto a thin mat on your back is going to wreck your spine no matter how much your fellow wrestlers is helping you. So it’s important that wrestling promotions have top notch medical staffs. You’d figure a huge company like WWE would be able to do that. But certain people would say otherwise.
For instance, when CM Punk finally opened up about the circumstances behind him walking out on the company, he made no small mention of the fact that WWE doctors had misdiagnosed a staph infection, so much that according to a personal doctor, he was lucky to still be alive. WWE might get the benefit of the doubt on these accusations since the two parties are still embroiled in a slander lawsuit over it, but even if the claims are in doubt, it’s still horrifying to have that hanging over their heads.
3 Glossed Over Wellness Policy Violations
After years of accusations of steroid use in WWE, and especially after the Chris Benoit tragedy, WWE has been very serious about controlling what substances their wrestlers put inside their bodies. While some accuse the system of not being strict enough on violators, the fact that even Roman Reigns, Vince’s infamous favorite, got busted speaks to them not making exceptions. What they do however, is sweep certain violations under the rug without talking about them publicly.
WWE has been good about suspending everyone who gets caught, but is fine with letting certain names get lost in the shuffle. The biggest example of this is Edge, who was suspended in 2007 in the Signature Pharmacy case where a multitude of wrestlers got busted. However, he was already on the shelf with injury at the time, so the whole thing was largely forgotten and no big deal was ever made of a suspension that didn’t really make any difference.
2 Randy Orton’s Anger Issues
Obviously with such a mix of personalities backstage, there’s going to be some conflict. Certain wrestlers’ personalities aren’t going to mesh well and they will like some of their coworkers and dislike others. That’s just how people in general work. Where it gets problematic is when one wrestler’s behavior starts getting others in trouble. And there’s perhaps no better example than the infamous Randy Orton temper.
The Viper has been known to have anger issues, whether based on fellow wrestler testimony or just seeing him get visibly frustrated in the ring. Or you could ask Mr. Kennedy who arguably lost his job over it. Kennedy botched a back body drop on Orton on an episode of RAW, and supposedly started pushing for Kennedy to finally be fired. To be fair to Orton, by most accounts Kennedy was already walking on eggshells, but it’s still personal anger leading a wrestler to campaign for the other to lose their job.
1 WWE Superstars Are Independent Contractors (In Name Only)
It can be easy to forget that for us, wrestling is entertainment, but for performers, it’s the job. So we don’t often think about the logistics of wrestlers carrying out their responsibilities. It turns out, WWE Superstars are independent contractors, which means they control how much work they want to do, but must provide their own transportation, food, and the like. Or at least, that’s what independent contractors are supposed to be like.
WWE is currently embroiled in a misclassification lawsuit with former wrestlers claiming the company falsely hired them as contractors. Superstars don’t actually get to choose what days they want to work like an independent contractor would, as well as many other rules of contractors that WWE doesn’t follow. They claim WWE does this to get away with not paying for their transportation costs and such, as well as to shift responsibility for health and injury claims and deny them the right to unionize. In short, WWE is a far shadier company behind the scenes than they let on.