In the history of pro wrestling, there have been a lot of issues with wrestlers and owners. It’s natural with so many egos around, guys clashing constantly and things getting hot. Stories are plentiful about massive backstage riffs and full on fights, not just between the talent but management as well. There have been plenty of times guys have been released on bad terms, although some are able to bounce back and mend the fences. Others however, are not and for a major reason.
Quite often, when a guy leaves a company, it’s not quietly. In fact, it can be as ugly as you can imagine. Whether the worker acts up or the boss hits back too hard, it can explode into a terrible event. WWE are the most famous, mostly thanks to Vince McMahon’s infamous pride and ego. However, plenty of other examples abound, including the “golden age” of the territories. There are so many examples but here are the biggest. The 20 ugliest breaks between workers and their companies and how nothing in wrestling, including firing/quitting, is quiet.
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20 Mike Awesome/ECW
While ECW was having its issues in 1999, they managed to hit something with Awesome. Living up to his name, the man could do monster brawling then follow it with technical work before smashing a guy through a table with a power bomb. His reign as ECW champion was great and the company seemed to have him locked as a major star. But then WCW came calling and Awesome decided to pop up on an episode of Nitro while still holding the ECW title. Paul Heyman was outraged and threatened to sue with Awesome hitting right back that Heyman was holding up payments to him.
There was also the issue of WCW advertising Awesome as ECW champion on their broadcasts. A settlement was reached as Tazz (with WWE at the time) beat Awesome (under WCW contract) for the ECW title. It was a blow to ECW although Heyman got a bit of the last laugh with Awesome saddled with horrible gimmicks in WCW that crushed his career. Still, to drag so much trouble into jumping as champion is as harsh a break in the business as can be.
19 Lex Luger/WWE
After doing a good job in WCW as multiple champion, Luger left in 1991 to try his hand at bodybuilding. That was ruined by a motorcycle accident so Luger came to WWE as the Narcissist. It was a good act but then Vince decided to remake Luger as an All-American hero, pushed hard in a title feud with Yokozuna only to not win the belt. For the next two years, Luger drifted, feuding with Tatanka, teaming with Davey Boy Smith but there was nothing really special for him. Yet most figured he’d stick around WWE for a while due to his contract.
When Eric Bischoff (pushed by Sting) made Luger an offer for a third of what he was making in WWE, he was amazed when Luger took it. Luger had given his word that he was coming back and thus it was a total shock when, just 24 hours after doing a WWE show, he appeared on the first “Nitro” broadcast. It was truly the first shot of the Monday Night War and a sensational one as McMahon has never forgiven Luger for walking out on him and this utter humiliation still hurts Vince a lot today.
18 Jerry Lawler/WWE
As the biggest star in Memphis wrestling, you can understand why Lawler would stick to running things his own way too much. In 1988, he created a partnership with the ailing AWA that allowed him to be AWA champion. This led to cross-promotion with World Class and Continental and Lawler got good press defending the title across company lines. This was to lead to a “Unified” title at SuperClash III but the card was a bad one that ended with Lawler beating Kerry Von Erich after the ref stopped the match due to Kerry’s blood loss. After only a few weeks, it became clear Lawler put his stuff ahead of the AWA and they broke apart with Lawler refusing to give up the AWA title belt until he was paid, which he never was, so Lawler still has the belt today.
His runs in WWE would be better but in 2001, Lawler’s then wife Stacy (known as the Kat) was fired. Lawler decided to go with her, rocking fans who loved his commentary. As it turned out, Stacy was cheating on Lawler and he returned to the company later that year. Sadly, Lawler’s recent arrest for domestic assault led to a nasty suspension. While he’s technically back, tensions are still high and show how “the King” isn’t always royally on top.
17 Sgt. Slaughter/WWE
Originally a brutal heel in Mid-Atlantic, Slaughter clicked as a hero in a feud with the Iron Sheik. His battles against Sheik got the fans going and as WWE took off in 1984, Slaughter was among their most recognizable faces. With his patriotic push and charisma, Slaughter knew he was a big deal and thus went to McMahon to ask for more money as well as six weeks paid vacation. McMahon was already angry about Slaughter wanting to use his likeness for the “GI Joe” cartoon and not pay WWE for it and thus fired him and went about burying Slaughter numerous times to the press.
Many believe the bad blood continuing was a reason Slaughter got the “Iraqi sympathizer” push in 1991 and he’s admitted he should have handled it a lot better, rather than cut his stardom short.
Arriving in WWE as simply the valet for husband Marc Mero, Rena began to get major attention as Sable. Her gorgeous looks helped but so did her daring ways as she helped push the “Attitude Era” with her provocative style and outgoing personality. Fans loved watching her wrestle but then show herself off in various ways, including a Playboy spread. Mero has admitted she let the fame go to her head and listened to the wrong people too much. This led to a huge ego and clashes backstage with some nasty pranks pulled on her.
In June of 1999, she quit the company and hit them with a $110 million lawsuit, alleging sexual misconduct and an unsafe workplace. This led to a countersuit about her using the “Sable” name and it was settled out of court. She would return in 2003, more humble for a decent run and left in 2004 on much better terms. She doesn’t appear much today, as she mostly spends time with her family, yet this brutal lawsuit shows how ugly things could get.
15 Lance Von Erich/World Class Championship Wrestling
The litany of woes of the Von Erich family are part of wrestling lore. Many put the blame on Fritz insisting on pushing his sons and covering for their many flaws and issues. In 1985, Mike was recovering from his near fatal toxic shock syndrome with Fritz needing to fill the gap for audiences. So, he introduced William Vaughn as Lance, a “cousin” of the family. While he had good looks and some skill, he just wasn’t at the level of the other Von Erichs and fans didn’t buy into him that much. Indeed, most of the family was adamant about not doing this but Fritz insisted. This backfired as it didn’t take long for someone in the press to figure the guy wasn’t a real relative and in these days of kayfabe, that was a huge deal.
After his pushes faded, Vaughn demanded more money to continue. Instead, Fritz got on TV to openly say he wasn’t a real Von Erich and blackballed him from the promotion forever. Many cite this as the worst move Fritz ever made and how his harsh measures led to so much tragedy.
After some great work in the AWA and WCW, Madusa Miceli joined WWE in 1993. As Alundra Blayze, she won the reactivated Women’s title and did a terrific job defending it against a variety of challengers. However, in late 1995, due to the terrible business they had that year, WWE decided to eliminate the women’s division. Naturally not happy with that, Madusa created one of the most infamous moments of the Monday Night War.
Showing up on a live “Nitro”, she took back her old name before dumping the title belt into a garbage bin. It was a stunning moment and sadly, Madusa’s career in WCW was nothing major. However, it's hard to get bigger than literally trashing a belt and it's a memorable moment of the War.
13 CM Punk/WWE
Punk was a fantastic star who, after so long struggling, finally managed to take off as a multiple champion in WWE. He also connected with fans by being himself. This great worker and talker's infamous “pipe bomb” promo took up so many issues fans had with WWE. As 2014 dawned, Punk was being more open about his lack of faith in WWE, especially their treatment of Daniel Bryan. Vince tried to cover by saying Punk was “taking a sabbatical” and most thought it was another attempt at a “walk out and return” storyline. It took months after his image was removed from the company’s website for it to sink in this was for real. Punk finally revealed he had been suspended two months for his talking out against Vince and when he tried to reach out for royalty money, was given the runaround.
The kicker was that the company mailed Punk his termination letter on his wedding day, a major blow. Punk has trashed WWE and Vince personally in practically every interview he’s done since, showcasing how a relationship that was already rough ended in as crazy a manner as you can imagine.
12 Steve Austin/WCW/WWE
Austin has a couple of major bits to make this list. The first was how Austin was taking off in 1994 WCW, holding TV, tag team and US titles and seemingly ready for a big push. However, Hulk Hogan’s arrival shoved Austin down the card as he dropped the US title to Jim Duggan and then was fired by Fed Ex while recovering from injury. That pushed Austin to go to ECW and he slammed WCW constantly.
After becoming a mega-star in WWE, Austin was feeling angry at his treatment in 2002, complaining about bad ideas including facing Brock Lesnar in a King of the Ring qualifying match on free TV. Austin then decided to walk out on the company, tossing them into chaos. Vince McMahon soon slammed Austin for leaving and accusations of who was to blame ripped back and forth. They did make up with Austin returning in 2003 but the biggest star in the company walking out like this was a huge deal.
11 Jesse Ventura/WWE
“The Body” and Vince McMahon have had a very complicated history. Once a great star with WWE, Ventura had been forced to retire and soon became a standout as a commentator. In 1984, Ventura tried to organize a union of wrestlers but it was crushed. In 1987, Ventura agreed to waive the royalties for his appearances on home video, believing that non-featured performers weren’t paid. In 1990, he discovered they were and angrily confronted Vince about it.
This led to Ventura lending his appearance to a Sega video game when WWE had a contract with Nintendo and he got paid for other appearances not affiliated with WWE. This led to him being fired and then leveling a lawsuit against WWE which would result in Ventura’s commentary being removed from home releases for years. While they would mend fences a bit and Ventura even returned to WWE for a few appearances, he and McMahon remain bitter toward each other that harsh attitude continues.
10 Jeff Jarrett/WWE
A key issue of Jarrett is that the guy is a good mid-card talent but thinks he’s on the level of Hogan or Flair. That’s gotten him into some problems with his desire for more of a push, leading to an exit from WCW in 1998. Jarrett went to WWE, arriving by doing an on-air “shoot” slamming WCW and screaming about being held back. For the next year, Jarrett did well, holding the IC title and seemed to be on the rise. In late 1999, he started to demand more money with his contract coming up, too much for Vince to want to pay off. So Jarrett was ready to go but as it happened, his contract expired one day before his planned IC title defense against Chyna. Thus, Jarrett held up Vince for $300,000, threatening to jump to WCW with the IC title unless he was paid.
Vince was forced to do so and he and Jarrett have hated each other ever since. It’s a showcase for his ego and how Jarrett’s belief in his bigger standing can lead to major trouble.
9 Stan Hansen/AWA
The tough Texan made no bones about being in the business for himself and using his clout to get money. In the 1980s, Hansen was one of the first American stars to realize how big you could make it in Japan as they loved his stiff style. Indeed, Hansen was making more money in Japan than most NFL players of the time. In 1985, Verne Gagne lured him to the AWA by having Hansen crush Rick Martel to win the World title. From the start, it was rough as Hansen wasn’t quite a guy to carry a company and his clashes with Gagne were numerous.
Hansen put his Japanese commitments first but Gagne wanted him to have AWA dates first. So, Hansen walked and they had him forfeiting the belt when he no-showed a match with Nick Bockwinkel. They demanded Hansen return the belt, which he did…after running it over with his truck and mailed it back with the tire tracks over it. It's just proof of how Hansen could be crazier off screen than in the ring.
8 Mildred Burke/Billy Wolfe/NWA
It’s inevitable at least one item on this list takes “divorce” literally. Throughout the 1940s, Burke had established herself as arguably the best female grappler around, a fantastic in-ring worker and a great star. She even wrestled men several times and in the days when wrestling was more of a shoot, she handled herself well. She and Billy Wolfe had a good marriage with him promoting her around the country but Burke realized how Wolfe was cheating on her with various other women.
The two divorced in 1952 with Wolfe exercised all in his power to blackball Burke from the business. This led to a series of lawsuits and slams in the press that went all the way to the NWA board, who backed Wolfe. Burke and June Byers (Wolfe’s new love) would end up in a match that turned into a real fight with Burke made out to lose despite clearly being the victor. It’s a shame a beautiful woman got herself into such an ugly affair in every sense of the word.
7 The Ultimate Warrior/WWE
When the Warrior burst upon the scene in 1988, he took fans by storm. They loved his ring entrance, his wild promos and his cartoonish antics. It led to huge success as IC champion and then WWE champion. While the heat faltered, the Warrior was still a huge deal, feuding with Jake Roberts and The Undertaker in 1991 and plans were for him to stay a key player for a while. But Warrior and Vince soon started fighting over money, Warrior demanding far more while working less dates and threatening to boycott key matches unless he was paid. Vince called him on it as Warrior was fired almost from the moment he finished a SummerSlam battle. He returned in 1992 and was being pushed to the title again. But then he was suspended for using growth hormones and decided to quit, ruining weeks of a program of him and Randy Savage teaming at Survivor Series.
Incredibly, the Warrior got another shot at WWE in 1996 where he was once more being planned for a main event push. But then he decided to no-show events, claiming Vince wasn’t paying him as promised while McMahon fired back claiming a breach of contract. Warrior’s WCW run was notable for a horrific Halloween Havoc battle with him walking out immediately despite getting a huge payday. Warrior was the subject of a horribly biased 2005 documentary but it’s a bit heartwarming he and the company mended fences before his death.
6 Rick Rude/WWE
A fantastic heel, Rude was notable for being pretty hot-tempered backstage and that ego got him in a lot of trouble. It also led him to put himself first and in various hard ways. He walked out on World Class right after dropping their title, ruining plans for him in rematches. He then walked out on JCP even as he and Manny Fernandez were NWA tag team champions so they had to use a non-title match against the Rock n Roll Express for the “title change” on TV. Rude was great in WWE for several years as IC champion and a top heel. However, in late 1990, right as he and the Big Bossman were ready for a major feud, Rude walked out on WWE amid talks of failing a drug test and a row over money.
He returned in 1997 as part of DX, an imposing figure with his suited enforcer look. However, Rude decided to walk out for a bigger paycheck at WCW and due to his anger over the Montreal Screwjob. This led to the bizarre sight of Rude managing to show up on a pre-taped RAW and live Nitro on the same night. Talk still abounds of the rage of Vince when that happened, as Rude was blackballed from WWE for the rest of his life. When it came to leaving companies, the Ravishing One could live up to his last name rather well.
5 Wendi Richter/WWE
Long before Bret Hart, Richter knew all about getting screwed. As WWE took off in 1985, Richter was a key figure, winning the Women’s title off the Fabulous Moolah and boosted at WrestleMania. She was terrific in the ring and her stardom was rising high. Richter naturally assumed she was deserving of a raise, basically equal to what Hogan had. McMahon thought this was way too much and decided Richter needed to be taught a lesson. At a match against masked jobber Spider Lady, Richter found herself facing a familiar opponent. The Spider Lady rolled her up, Richter kicking out but the ref counted it as a pin and rang for the bell.
Richter tore the mask off to reveal Moolah and got her into another pin, thinking the match was still going. Instead, she was informed that Moolah had won and Richter was soon gone herself. A brutal moment that reminded you how hard-balled Vince McMahon can get.
4 Ric Flair/WCW
Flair’s amazing skill and persona has helped make him a legend among wrestlers and fans alike. For over a decade and a half, he was the key person behind Jim Crockett Promotions, his reigns as NWA champion doing big business and was a cornerstone to WCW. When Turner took over, Flair did okay at first but Jim Herd’s bungling soon got to him. Herd wanted to change Flair’s image with the idea of him as a Roman gladiator type despite how Flair was fine as he was. Flair soon held out for more money in 1991 and Herd made the dumb mistake of firing him.
Flair then took the WCW World title belt (which he technically “owned”) and jumped to WWE. This led to the disastrous Great American Bash where the crowd chanted Flair’s name constantly. He would return two years later but ran into issues against Eric Bischoff in 1998 that led to a firing, although he would come back. Flair has had issues with WWE and TNA yet this infamous break was the most notable and proof of how the Nature Boy could get into ugly tussles outside the ring.
3 Hulk Hogan/AWA/WWE/WCW/WWE/TNA/WWE
Hogan may be among the biggest stars in the history of wrestling but he’s also known for his massive ego. Thus, it’s no surprise he’s ended up doing some major walkouts here and there under harsh circumstances. It began when he wanted more of a cut off his merchandise in the AWA as well as a title run but Verne Gagne refused on both. So, Hogan jumped to WWE with no notice to Gagne, leading to his massive success as the AWA soon fell apart.
After a decade on top, Hogan’s run with WWE ended poorly as he and Vince had a huge clash over money and so Hogan left in 1993 with Vince making sure he went out bad, losing the title to Yokozuna. Hogan would then have years of success in WCW but in 2000, a strange event occurred. He and Vince Russo agreed to a plan for Hogan to seemingly win a match then blast Russo and walk out. However, Russo went too far with a speech slamming Hogan and so Hogan left for real under a bitter cloud.
Hogan’s return to WWE in 2002 had some surprising success but that ended in 2003 with he and Vince bitterly arguing about money and Hogan getting the spotlight. Hogan’s TNA tenure was also rough and ended with Hogan walking out on the company and the pitiful sight of Dixie Carter literally begging on her knees for him not to go.
Hogan’s latest return ended in a huge mess when tape of his racist rants surfaced and he’s been let go. Maybe it’s fitting a man of such huge stardom can make anything he does a huge event, including an exit.
You can’t get much uglier than full on physical assault. Kevin Wacholz joined WWE in 1992 with the gimmick of Nailz, a former convict seeking payback on the Big Bossman. He was an imposing man who did well with the gimmick and thought he deserved more of a push. Vince disagreed and things built up to a major shouting match. That soon got completely out of control with Wacholz storming into Vince’s office, slapping him and even choking him.
Needless to say, Nailz was fired and quickly slammed WWE hard with a lawsuit. Wacholz became a major figure in the federal trial against Vince on steroid use, clearly wanting to get some payback. Rather ironic how a con playing a con ending up doing a massive assault like this and it's an example of how Vince tends to rile people up big time.
1 Bret Hart/WWE
A pretty obvious top choice. When your exit creates the most infamous screwjob in wrestling history, it shows how ugly things can get. Despite some good creative work in 1997, WWE was still hurting in the ratings against WCW and Vince told Bret he could no longer afford his massive 20 year contract. Back and forth they went with Vince urging Bret to seek out a deal with WCW. However, Bret didn’t want to drop the belt at the Survivor Series to Shawn Michaels and certainly not in Canada.
What really happened is complex with both Bret and Shawn admitting “we worked ourselves into a shoot” and Triple H throwing his own two cents in. Eventually, we got the now famous sight of Shawn getting Bret into the Sharpshooter, the bell rung fast and Shawn getting the belt. Bret spat at Vince as he smashed up cameras, then punched him in the face backstage. Ironically, this would lead to WWE taking the lead in the War as the bad blood between Bret and Vince raged for over a decade. They eventually made up with Bret making a return to the company but it's still notable for how ugly things can get with major workers.
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