WWE has been a PG-rated television company for almost a decade now. The decision to go PG was made by Vince McMahon due to wanting to clean up the public perception about the company. As a publicly traded company that wanted to become a global brand, the idea was to appeal to all audiences with a family-friendly product. Most adult fans continued to watch despite complaints about the show being watered down. There have been ups and downs through the years regarding the product proving the rating didn’t matter as much as the content. However, WWE still loves to push the envelope and crosses the PG-rating line.
These instances showed the company leaning towards adult-oriented entertainment when it came to the topics at hand. The use of blood, swearing, adult references and overall crude content all have been part of WWE over the past decade in small spurts. WWE managed to somehow keep their PG rating through this time without getting called out for the controversial segments. We'll look at some of the most shocking moments that made us wonder if we missed the rating being changed. Here are twenty-five things we still can’t believe WWE got away with during the PG era.
25 Braun Strowman Ambulance Attack
WWE has booked Braun Strowman stronger than almost any other wrestler in recent memory. The consistent use of absurd moments to show Strowman’s strength has helped him become one of the top stars in the company. There was one specific idea that made Strowman a star instantly. Roman Reigns has been polarizing for many years, but the hatred reached a new level after it was implied he retired The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33.
The segment featured Strowman blindsiding Reigns backstage and brutally attacking him. Fans reacted with a ridiculously loud ovation when Braun screamed “I’m not finished with you!” as he attacked Reigns again when he was about to get placed in an ambulance. The third attack of the night featured Strowman flipping over the ambulance with Reigns inside of it. This was one of the most vicious attacks in recent memory and helped get Braun over in a big way.
24 Roman Reigns And John Cena Getting Personal
A recent instance of WWE getting away with some adult-oriented content featured the feud between Roman Reigns and John Cena. The dream match was scheduled with weeks of build allowing them to rip into each other. Cena and Reigns each showed an edgier side than the generic superhero face characters we have become accustomed to.
The rivalry started red hot when Cena called out Reigns for not being able to keep up with him in promos. It went past the PG rating when Cena flat out referenced Reigns failing a drug test back in 2016. Roman started to get wild as well with his promo material. One promo saw him use swear words when calling out Cena for having a part-time schedule. The personal nature of the feud led to mainstream coverage of the match, but it clearly wasn't PG.
23 KO's Attack On A 72-Year-Old Vince
We have seen Vince McMahon involved in physical confrontations, matches and brutal beatdowns many times through the years. However, one moment stands out as being the most shocking and it took place a few months. Kevin Owens received the huge opportunity to get involved in a segment with Vince by brutally attacking him in the ring.
The surprising aspect of it was seeing McMahon take such hard shots at the age of 72. Most instances of a man that old being beaten down on live television would be considered crossing the line. Owens started the attack with a crushing headbutt and then delivered an onslaught of stiff moves. McMahon started bleeding from the forehead to present an even more intense visual. The segment was incredible to witness as everyone was shocked to see this go down under the PG rating.
22 Brie Bella Kissing AJ Lee
The Bella Twins and AJ Lee have found their way into controversial moments during their careers. Both parties clearly disliked each other due to their differences in how they entered WWE. A feud between Nikki Bella and Lee ended in shocking fashion back in 2014. Brie was a face character forced to be the servant of heel Nikki leading into Nikki’s match against AJ.
However, Brie revealed she was working with Nikki all along to help her win the Divas Championship. AJ was stunned as Brie grabbed her face to deliver a huge kiss startling her. Nikki took advantage by hitting her finisher to win the match and title. It was a very rare case of women kissing each other for shock value on WWE television.
21 CM Punk Disgracing Paul Bearer
CM Punk found success by being one of the edgier wrestlers to thrive in the PG environment. The promo style of Punk saw him reference things that broke the fourth wall. However, one specific feud saw him cross the line in a more drastic manner. Punk had a huge match against The Undertaker at WrestleMania 29 that took placed shortly after the death of Paul Bearer.
The decision was made to have Punk mock the death of Undertaker’s former manager. A specifically tasteless moment featured Paul Heyman dressing as Bearer and imitating the dead personality. Punk ended the segment by pouring the ashes out of the urn implying it was Bearer’s. Many fans were disgusted as these two didn’t need this to have a good story. The fact that it took place in the PG era is shocking to believe.
20 Bella Twins Family Warfare
WWE decided to split up Nikki and Brie Bella in 2014 after years of being a team. Both ladies were able to showcase their drastically different personalities on Total Divas to create separate fan bases. Nikki turned on Brie at SummerSlam 2014 to cost her a match against Stephanie McMahon. The heel turn allowed Nikki to showcase her personality and get her to the next level in the women’s division.
While Nikki was able to cut solid promos, the early ones with Brie provided cringe-worthy moments. An exceptionally terrible line saw Nikki state she wished Brie "died in the womb" as Brie cried her eyes out. The cold line was meant to create interest in the feud, but it just made fans roll their eyes at WWE trying to replicate Jerry Springer-like segments.
19 Big Cass Making Fun Of Seth Rollins' Leaks
Seth Rollins found his name into headlines for all the wrong reasons in early 2015. The love life issues of Rollins saw him cheat on his fiancé with fellow wrestler Zahra Schreiber. Once his fiancé found out, she used his social media accounts to post private pictures of both Rollins and Zahra to shame them. Rollins issued an apology, but fans still discussed the shocking incident online.
WWE tried not to acknowledge it in any way on television as Rollins was becoming one of the top stars in the company. It wasn’t until a few years later that the real-life incident was used in a promo. Big Cass made a joke about Rollins’ baring it all in his pictures ahead of their fatal-four-way match with Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens. Fans reacted in shock at something non-PG being part of a promo in the current landscape of WWE.
18 Paige Mocking Reid Flair
Another controversial moment that involved the Flair family featured Paige cutting a shocking promo. Charlotte Flair has made it clear that the biggest inspiration in her career is her late brother Reid Flair. The dream of Reid was to follow in his dad’s footsteps in the wrestling industry. Drug use ended up causing him to pass away at a very young age.
WWE’s writing staff wanted fans to be invested in the angle involving Paige and Charlotte heading into their big match. The idea that made it to television saw Paige made a derogatory remark about Reid not having enough fight in him to beat death. Charlotte responded by attacking Paige for a huge brawl. Instead of getting fans invested in Charlotte getting revenge, everyone just talked about how tacky it all came off.
17 Eva Marie's Intentional Malfunction
WWE tried to use the hatred wrestling fans had for Eva Marie following the brand split. Eva received a push on the SmackDown brand as a heel character that found creative ways to get out of matches. WWE had her personal ring announcer speak to the live crowd explaining why Eva couldn’t show up each week to add to her prima donna and cowardly character.
The most unique way to get out of a match came when Eva’s top started to fall off before a match started. Eva demanded the referee cover her up and help her out of the ring leading to the match being canceled. The visual of Eva’s top falling off was not one most would associate with the PG era of WWE content. It proved WWE was not remaining insistent of having a strictly PG product any longer.
16 Brock Lesnar Pummelling Randy Orton
Brock Lesnar is another wrestler that often pushes the envelope when it comes to the PG era. Unlike the other wrestlers who like to cut edgy promos, Lesnar likes to cross the line in the ring with his violence. We see blood in the matches of Brock occasionally despite the rule against it. Lesnar loves the brutal element from the in-ring portion of wrestling more than the character aspect.
We saw him make a match look like a UFC fight when facing Randy Orton at SummerSlam 2016. Lesnar started delivering stiff shots to Orton's head as The Viper started to bleed in the ring. Fans were stunned silent and wrestlers in the back were upset. Chris Jericho confronted Lesnar about this leading to a huge backstage scuffle. You know something crossed the line when wrestlers are getting pissed off about it.
15 Ric Flair Said What To Natalya?
The wrestling career of Ric Flair skyrocketed when he could cross the line verbally for his promos. Many of Flair’s memorable promos featured him using adult-themed content as part of the charm. This ended when WWE started to move towards their PG rating. Flair just missed the PG era as it started when his career ended.
However, a few appearances have shown that Flair would not have made it in the PG landscape of wrestling today. A memorable example of this took place during his daughter Charlotte Flair’s feud with Natalya. Ric was the manager of Charlotte and told Natalya to “kill herself” during a promo battle. WWE edited this out of the SmackDown broadcast, but video emerged online showing Ric crossing the line once again.
14 R-Truth Lights One Up
WWE has rarely ever featured cigarettes on television. Rumor has it that Vince McMahon dislikes cigarette smoking, and it used to be a rule that they were never allowed on WWE television. That makes it more surprising that a cigarette would be used during the PG era. R-Truth turned heel on John Morrison on an episode of Raw in the United Kingdom.
Morrison defeated R-Truth in a match that caused R-Truth to snap and beat the hell out of Morrison afterwards. Following the beatdown, R-Truth decided to smoke a cigarette at ringside to show his rebellious attitude. Fans chanted “that’s illegal” as R-Truth enjoyed indulging in the tobacco. The visual of a wrestler arrogantly smoking a cigarette in the PG era was bizarre to witness, especially it didn’t play a role in his heel character going forward.
13 The Usos Reference Xavier Woods And Paige’s Tape
The video of Paige sharing intimate moments with former wrestler Brad Maddox from their relationship many years ago leaked in 2017. A shocking element to the story was Xavier Woods appearing in one of the videos as all three wrestlers worked together in WWE developmental at the time. WWE tried to refrain from discussing the story on television considering the controversial nature.
This was until The Usos wanted to go all out with the savage comments in their battle rap segment with New Day. One of the Usos referenced Woods getting rated-R in his off time. This line led to a lot of social media chatter and the live crowd going nuts. WWE reportedly didn’t clear this and likely through them for a loop.
12 Chris Jericho/CM Punk WrestleMania Storyline
The straight edge lifestyle of CM Punk was often used to portray him as a heel looking down at the wrestlers and fans that enjoyed alcohol. WWE flipped it around when Chris Jericho returned as a heel to feud with Punk heading into WrestleMania XXVIII. Jericho used Punk’s beliefs against him by referencing Punk’s father having addiction issues with substances.
One moment that broke PG featured Jericho brutally attacking Punk and forcing alcohol down his throat. It was portrayed as the first time Punk consumed alcohol as it went against everything he believed in. This form of storytelling was something WWE strayed away from in the PG era. Jericho apparently convinced Vince McMahon to let him go this deep and Punk was clearly okay with it given his preference for edgy stories.
11 Ric Flair Kissing Becky Lynch
One moment on WWE television was bad enough for the company to edit it out shortly after the show aired. Charlotte Flair was defending her Divas Championship against Becky Lynch at the 2016 Royal Rumble event. Ric Flair still had the role of manager for Charlotte and found a gross way to get involved in the match. To distract Becky, Ric forced himself on her for a kiss.
The uncomfortable moment felt wrong instantly, and you could tell the ladies knew it was a bad idea. WWE was so upset with how it came off that they removed it from the WWE Network broadcast of the show in the video on-demand section. Ric lost his role on WWE television a few months later. The fact that he often crossed the line and didn’t adhere to rules likely played a role in this.
10 Lana & Enzo Hotel Room Antics
Enzo Amore got away with things that shouldn’t have flied on a PG product quite a few times during his career. The personality of Enzo often saw him cross the line in promos and WWE tried to book to his strengths. A feud with Rusev started when Enzo was walking around backstage naked before running into Lana. The two sides went back and forth for a few weeks.
Lana invited Enzo to her hotel room one week leading to one of the most risqué WWE segments in a long time. Cameras showed Lana in her nightwear attempting to seduce Enzo into sharing intimacy with her. Enzo stripped down to his underwear before getting pummeled by Rusev. It felt like the kind of segment you would have watched in the Attitude Era.
9 Nexus Destroying Everyone
The moments that broke the PG rating often provided shock value considering fans have been used to the family friendly product. Nexus’ debut as a faction showed this as fans could not comprehend what was going on. Wade Barrett led his group of fellow NXT rookies in a hostile takeover of Raw to end the show.
John Cena and CM Punk were attacked by the Nexus in typical wrestling fashion, but it became uncomfortable when everyone else at ringside fell victim to them. The commentators, ring announcer and security guards received brutal beat downs. It was one of the most shocking moments in WWE history. Daniel Bryan ended up becoming a scapegoat for sponsors being unhappy with the segment due to him choking Justin Roberts with a belt. WWE fired Bryan for a few months to deal with the controversy following the angle.
8 Paige & Natalya Get A Little Too Close
The women’s division didn’t become credible until WWE started pushing them as athletes in recent years. However, the company attempted to stop with the adult related content of the ladies quite some time ago to adhere to the PG era. Their goal was to have ladies wrestling short matches and that being enough to provide eye candy.
A rare moment during the PG era that featured the content typical for the Attitude Era featured Paige adding a new maneuver to her move set. Paige decided to suggestively lick the face of Natalya during their match. Total Divas showed Natalya getting upset at Paige doing this without warning her ahead of time. Management had to be upset with it as well considering how intent they were about the PG rating at the time.
7 John Cena And The Rock Promo Wars
Vince McMahon envisioned John Cena and The Rock becoming the biggest feud in WWE history. It is hard to say that was accomplished, but it certainly brought in a lot of interest and money for the two WrestleMania events they headlined. Both legends had issues with the other heading into their big matches. This showed in the realistic style promos cut by Rock and Cena.
Rock was the one wrestler on the show without any restrictions regarding his content. The PG rating was essentially mocked by Rock as he used many swear words and made consistent adult jokes to mock Cena. At one point, The Rock even referenced Cena’s real-life divorce in shocking fashion. Cena responded with some edgy content about Rock as well. It was a heated couple of promos that pushed the envelope.
6 Chris Jericho's Altercation With Shawn Michaels' Wife
The legendary feud between Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels in 2008 featured them often crossing the line during the early stages of the PG era. As two veterans of the sport, they were used to making their work look as realistic as possible in the most brutal of ways. One shocking moment took place at SummerSlam 2008 when Jericho accidentally punched Michaels’ wife in the fact to add more intensity to the feud.
Jericho ended up laying in a legitimate punch that is very tough to watch back today. The crowd was shocked witnessing such a moment in a WWE ring as Michaels tended to his hurt wife. It led to them having a few more classic matches and took their feud to the next level.
5 CM Punk Saying WWE Would Be Better If Vince Passed Away
The infamous “pipebomb promo” by CM Punk was one of the most shocking moments in WWE history. Punk broke the mundane routine of the show feeling the same every week by cutting a worked shoot promo that broke the fourth wall. The comments of Punk saw him air frustrations that many wrestlers and fans had with the product.
A major complaint saw him state that Vince McMahon being out of touch was holding back the company. Punk claimed that WWE would be better off if Vince died before realizing that Triple H and Stephanie McMahon would also do a poor job replacing him. This was the most important line in the promo that made fans feel it was real. No one could believe WWE would okay such a vicious line about Vince to be aired on live television.
4 AJ Lee Calls Out Bellas' Relationships
AJ Lee and the Bella Twins find their way on this list once again. This specific moment featured AJ Lee crossing the line in one of her promos. It is no secret that the Bellas and Lee could not stand each other in real life despite having to work together quite often. Lee showed her true feelings for the Bellas in a promo that saw her get extremely personal.
The line from AJ saw her state that it was too bad that wrestling skills weren’t “sexually transmitted” when it came to the Bella Twins. This was due to the relationships of Nikki dating John Cena and Brie dating Daniel Bryan. It added more tension as the ladies got personal on the microphone quite a few times. The Bella Twins still maintain they get a lot of criticism from fans due to Lee’s comments.
3 Jeff Hardy's Poor Dog
A storyline to add a real-life incident to it featured Jeff Hardy’s home catching on fire and his dog passing away. This legitimately happened and was a heartbreaking story. Hardy loved his dog like a best friend and losing him in the fire was a crushing blow. The timing took place around the time Matt Hardy turned heel to enter a feud with his brother heading into WrestleMania XXV.
It would become part of the angle to claim that Matt started the real fire and took credit for killing Jeff’s dog. The feud did not benefit from having this ridiculous idea added to it. If anything, it just took away from the match since the backstage element of WWE approving this is what was discussed. WWE somehow got away with this storyline during the early stages of the PG rating.
2 Y2J & HBK's Feud Taken To Another Level
An early instance of the PG rating facing issues took place during the feud between Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels. It was the first blood feud of the new era in WWE. Both wrestlers had the okay to work at their own discretion considering the importance of the matches. One specific match featured Michaels getting bloodied to the point of where fans feared for him.
The crimson mask of Michaels was enough to infuriate Vince McMahon to make changes. Jericho claimed this was the match that led to WWE adopting a strict rule against blood in the ring. Accidental blood in following matches saw the doctor come into the ring to clear the wrestler during the match. This brutal match is not one sponsors liked considering WWE just switched to the PG rating.
1 Randy Orton Creeping On Stephanie
A very memorable moment on WWE television took place in 2009 during the feud between Randy Orton and the McMahon family. Orton delivered a couple of brutal attacks on Shane McMahon and Vince McMahon ahead of his WrestleMania XXV title shot against Triple H. It became one of the most personal rivalries in WWE history following a shocking incident that broke the PG rating.
Orton got the upper hand attacking Triple H and handcuffing him to the ring ropes leading to Stephanie McMahon coming to the ring to try to save her husband. It led to Orton attacking her, which was an uncomfortable moment on its own. To make matters worse, Orton started making out with an unconscious Stephanie in front of Triple H. The segment helped add to the feud, but it clearly broke the protocol of what sponsors wanted from WWE in the PG era.