The backstage area of a wrestling company is like a powder keg waiting to blow. There are many different larger than life personalities all operating with different motives in a high-octane, high-stress environment, and sooner or later someone is going to rub someone else the wrong way. Sometimes, when the agitation is between two workers, they may resolve the issue the old fashioned way, by taking it up with their fists. But if you’re ever one of the unlucky souls to displease the boss, you could be gambling with your livelihood.
Vince McMahon is well-known through the wrestling industry for two things: a visionary approach to the business and an insanely short temper. The two pretty much go hand in hand, when you think about it. It’s his big ideas and short patience for those who go against them that has helped build WWE into the global behemoth it is today.
However, sometimes we hear stories that are too ridiculous to excuse them with visionary talent. Sometimes a wrestler will commit what feels like the smallest of wrongdoings and be met with punishments that could drastically alter the course of their careers. While many wrestlers look to Vince McMahon as a father figure, a boss to be revered and respected for the decades of hard work he has accumulated, like any father he has to play disciplinarian. And sometimes the discipline he serves borders the absurd.
15. Titus O’Neil’s 60-Day Suspension
On February 8, 2016 former Champion Daniel Bryan bid farewell to the WWE Universe in the final televised segment of that Monday’s RAW, giving an emotional and poignant speech thanking the fans for the opportunity to live out his dreams. At its conclusion, the entire roster appeared onstage to applaud their retiring colleague and to join him in his signature “Yes!” chant to close the show.
As the broadcast faded to black and the roster began to head backstage, viewers could see in the corner of their screen what appeared to be a playful altercation between Titus O’Neil and head honcho Vince McMahon. To make way for Stephanie McMahon to pass, Titus grabbed Vince’s shoulder; they were in the background of the shot, so it’s unknown what exactly they said to each other.
Apparently, Vince read the situation differently. The next day, it was announced that O’Neil would be suspended for 60 days due to “unprofessional conduct.” Yikes. Quite a price to pay for some playful chivalry.
14. Batista’s $100,000 Fine
Starting in 2008, WWE programming began airing with a PG rating. Many have speculated that this was due mainly to the company wanting to clean up its image after the Benoit family murder-suicide, as well as in an effort to appease shareholders. The fresh content policy prohibited some staples of wrestling like chair shots to the head and using razor blades to intentionally bleed during matches.
During this radical readjustment of the company, which had until then been known partially for its death-defying spectacle and copiously bloody hardcore matches, some performers were slow to adjust to the change. Batista is perhaps the most notorious example, having caught the ire of Vince McMahon after he “bladed” during a steel cage match against Chris Jericho. Batista believed that “getting color” was essential to this match’s realism and drama, but McMahon disagreed. For deliberately defying the company’s policy, Batista was fined a whopping $100,000.
Of course, knowing all that we do about concussions and the long-term health of performers, it’s understandable that WWE would want to ban such extreme acts. However, this does not mitigate how jaw-dropping that sum is, especially knowing that Jericho, the referee, and the match’s producer received significantly smaller fines. For his part, Batista paid everyone’s fines himself, but would go on to say that he knew nothing would be the same between him and WWE afterward.
13. Perry Saturn and Moppy
In 2001, Perry Saturn was booked against a jobber named Mike Bell on an episode of RAW. Bell apparently went off script during the match, enraging Saturn to the point that he started taking legitimate shots at Bell. For his loss of temper on live television, Saturn was punished by being booked into an angle where he fell in love with an inanimate mop: Moppy.
The joke, however, ended up being on the punishers instead of the punishee. Saturn’s run with the Moppy angle—which saw him randomly spurting “you’re welcome” and believing he and the mop were soulmates due to head trauma—ended up being the most memorable gimmick of his run with WWE.
It is unfortunate, though, seeing how two of his Radicalz stable-mates, Guerrero and Benoit, ended up with world title runs, and the third, Dean Malenko, continues to be one of the most respected names in the business, as well as a WWE match producer. Saturn had all the technical gifts as his three partners; if he had kept his cool, perhaps his name would be as highly regarded with the company too.
12. The Rock Humiliates Lana On-Air
In the lead-up to WrestleMania 32, The Rock made a special return to RAW in his hometown of Miami, to hype the crowd during the third hour with an uninterrupted 30 minutes onscreen, verbally tearing through everyone he met, including Big Show and the New Day. The oratorical smackdown he “layeth”-ed had a good-natured, entertaining vibe to it, with the exception of one target: Lana.
The segment occurred following when Rusev and Lana’s real-life engagement broke into the news, an incident which allegedly enraged Vince McMahon for breaking the rules of staying in character that he holds all of his talent to. It was also in the midst of a love triangle storyline the pair had going with Dolph Ziggler and Summer Rae, thereby conflicting the onscreen drama with real-life events.
The Rock’s remarks included suggestions that he and Lana had engaged in “adult activities,” during which the newly-engaged valet had to grit her teeth and bear the abuse. It is unconfirmed whether or not Rock had been instructed to do this because of the engagement, but knowing McMahon’s history of unfair punishment, the coincidence is too big to ignore.
11. Owen Hart’s Blue Blazer Gimmick
After the Montreal Screwjob sent Bret Hart fleeing from WWE like a dumpster fire, to the big paychecks of WCW, Owen Hart was still under contract with his brother’s former employer for another few years. He was given the comedy character of the Blue Blazer as an embarrassing punishment for his brother’s transgressions, as well as refusing to do a storyline that would see him have an on-screen affair with Debra.
Owen was a consummate professional and played the character very well; reportedly being a funny guy off-camera anyway, the comedy character suited him to an extent. But his tragic death occurred at Over the Edge 1999, after falling from the arena rafters in a botched comedy spot that would have seen him rappel to ringside and pratfall out of his harness onto the canvas. One wonders if the younger Hart would still be with us today had he not been doled out this ridiculous punishment.
10. Vince McMahon Berates Braun Strowman For Flubbing A Line
Standing close to seven feet tall and weighing almost 400 pounds, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the WWE locker room having the chutzpah to go toe to toe with Braun Strowman. However, the 71-year-old madman at the controls, none other than Vince McMahon, did just that recently backstage at RAW.
In an in-ring segment Strowman confronted Kevin Owens and demanded a “title shot.” The problem is right there in the quotation marks. Apparently, this terminology enraged McMahon, who berated Strowman backstage after the segment for saying “title shot” instead of “title match.”
While it’s unlikely this will result in any concrete punishment, the thought of McMahon getting so angry over a simple word choice is nothing short of ridiculous. Part of the reason why WWE has been so successful lies in Vince’s keen eye for the smallest of details, but one wonders if perhaps he might want to pick his battles a little better.
9. Triple H And The Undertaker Fined For WM27 Chair Shot
The chair shot to the head. A staple of the Attitude Era. A spectacle like no other, of that stomach-churning sound of bare steel against a skull would reverberate sickly through an arena of ravenous fans. WWE smartly banned these types of shots in the wake of the Benoit family murder-suicide, when scrutiny over the performers’ well-beings and the horrors of repeated brain trauma flooded the public eye.
It was also ultimately the best thing to do from a storytelling perspective. The chair shot to the head had become so commonplace as to render it uninteresting, a humdrum action whose physical risk far outweighed any value it had to ring psychology. But one chair shot to the head in recent memory felt absolutely vital to the story of the match: Triple H and the Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVII.
These were two Attitude Era icons who wanted to destroy each other. Late in the match, having tried all else, Triple H resorted to the old reliable by hitting Undertaker over the head with a steel chair. In a match that had the overtones of the end of an era, it was a brutal callback to the hundreds of headshots that speckled the landscape of these athletes’ respective primes. It communicated the desperation of Triple H’s glory days fading away from him, unable to keep The Deadman down.
But rules are rules, as they say. Triple H and the Undertaker were fined an undisclosed amount for the shot, superb storytelling notwithstanding.
8. Paige’s Contract Being Held Hostage
In summer of 2016, Paige was suspended for 30 days for her first violation of WWE’s wellness policy. This was concurrent with Alberto del Rio, with whom she had begun an off-screen relationship, receiving the same suspension. As her first suspension came to an end, Paige failed another wellness policy exam and was therefore suspended for an additional 60 days. During this time, she revealed that she would take an indefinite leave from the company to recoup from injuries.
It is unclear how long she will be on the shelf or to what extent her injuries are limiting her. Del Rio was released in 2016, and Paige has been photographed at other wrestling events with him. Yet, WWE keeps her on her contract. There has been speculation that they are holding her to her contract as a punishment for the derelict backstage behavior, regardless of the fact that she has no place in the current product.
Paige is young, having only just turned 24 during her suspension, and could have a long career ahead of her. It is suspicious that WWE continues to hold her contract in place despite having no apparent plans for her in the near future.
7. Jim Ross Fired For Ric Flair’s Bad Behavior
Jim Ross was the voice of a generation, having worked with WWE in various roles for twenty years. He is perhaps best known as the head commentator of Monday Night RAW for much of the Attitude Era, introducing words like “slobberknocker” to every wrestling fan’s vocabulary, but he also served vital backstage roles in his time too, such as as talent relations head for much of the 90s.
In 2013, a panel for WWE 2k14 went awry due to Ric Flair arriving to the panel intoxicated as well as there being no script and very little preparation for the event. Some in the audience also suspected that Ross himself had been drinking, a claim which he refutes, citing that fatigue from his Bell’s palsy had his face flushed and his voice slurry.
Nevertheless, Ross’s contract was terminated shortly after this debacle, for having behaved unprofessionally and failed to, as the panel’s moderator, reign in the mouthy Flair. Due to the harshness of this punishment and the fact that Ric Flair was not reprimanded in any tangible way, one wonders if the powers that be were simply waiting for an excuse to terminate the aging Ross.
6. Roman Reigns Forced To Apologize To Locker Room
In June of 2016, in the midst of his massive push and the WWE Championship reign he began at WrestleMania, Roman Reigns was suspended for violating the Wellness Policy. It was one of the more shocking suspensions of that year, proving that the policy was apparently no joke, and that any violations would be punished, even if they were the champion and a pet project for Vince McMahon like Reigns.
For his part, Reigns took the punishment gracefully, never trying to talk his way out of it or save face in public. He acknowledged his mistake and apologized to his fans on Twitter. In the wake of this, it surfaced that he had allegedly been forced to give an apology speech to the entire locker room in addition to the suspension.
Now, Reigns clearly made a big mistake using illicit substances during his push, or really at all. But to further punish and emasculate him in front of all of his coworkers seems like a step too far. The suspension should have sufficed, as it does for others who violate the policy.
5. Burying Miz After Survivor Series In 2011
Survivor Series 2011 had surprisingly low pay-per-view buys, especially considering the fact that The Rock and John Cena were featured in the main event. However, their opponents were, well, not exactly of the same star power; Rock and Cena teamed up to take on The Miz and R-Truth.
When the event flopped, Miz and Truth took the brunt of the blame, and Miz’s main event push seemed all but over. Although he appeared in some high profile matches, including the Elimination Chamber and a triple threat TLC match against CM Punk and Alberto Del Rio, he was rarely on the winning side of a feud. After losing to Brodus Clay at Over the Limit in 2012, the former WWE Champion disappeared from television for over two months.
It wouldn’t be until his Intercontinental Championship reign in 2016, four years later, that Miz was once again booked like the genuine talent that he is.
4. Burying Zack Ryder
Zack Ryder appeared pretty much exclusively on the lower end of the card, bordering often on jobber status in WWE. But he took it upon himself to vitalize his stock by using social media to endear himself to fans, including with his own YouTube series. He had a short run with the United States Championship and was in a handful of featured matches throughout 2011, but within the following year the whole thing fizzled out.
Ryder finally had a moment in the spotlight at WrestleMania, winning the Intercontinental Championship in 2016 in a multi-man ladder match. His reign lasted for only one day, though, dropping the strap to the Miz the following night on RAW. Since then, he has been absent from WWE television due to injury, just as he was on the cusp of a tag team program with Mojo Rawley as part of the Hype Bros.
Many feel that because he took matters into his own hands to get over, that WWE and Vince McMahon have had little interest in him since. It’s hard to imagine, as Ryder gets on in age and is currently out with a significant knee injury, where he will fit in on the WWE landscape upon his return. Due to the shoddy booking that has plagued him most of his career, it’s hard to imagine him ever reaching his full potential.
3. Burying WCW Talent, Including Sting
After WWE acquired World Championship Wrestling in 2001, it was hard for any of the WCW originals or those who had defected from WWE to the southern competitor to catch a break. Top talents like Diamond Dallas Page and Scott Steiner were booked into ridiculous angles in which the WWE faithfuls invariably came out on top.
The worst example of this is Sting. When the Franchise of WCW finally debuted in WWE in 2015, his WrestleMania match against Triple H was one of the most hyped showdowns on the card. Unfortunately, any of the prestige the match may have had was tarnished by the overbooked interferences from the nWo and D-Generation X. The match essentially became a metaphor of the Monday Night Wars, seeing Triple H and DX come out on top yet again over Sting and the New World Order.
Mind you, this was in 2015, i.e. fourteen years after WCW’s end. One would think that by then the company would have had different priorities than celebrating their dominance over a competitor over a decade earlier, but that would be wrong. When it comes to ego, the booking staff at WWE often know no bounds.
2. Punishing Triple H For The Curtain Call
Triple H is one of the most infamous politicians in wrestling, especially during his time as a member of the Kliq. This was a group of backstage buddies that included ‘Trips, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Sean Waltman, a.k.a X-Pac. In Nash and Hall’s last night in WWE before their contracts began with WCW, Michaels, Nash, Hall, and Triple H gathered in-ring to hug one another after the main event, an act which pulled back the curtain before the audience’s eyes—at the time Michaels and and Hall were babyfaces while Hunter and Nash were heels.
It’s understandable that McMahon was upset about this, especially considering that kayfabe was still reasonably well-protected at this time. But the punishment he doled out seemed only to land on the shoulders of Triple H. Since Nash and Hall were leaving the company, there was nothing McMahon could do to them, but one wonders why, if he was so angry, he wouldn’t punish Shawn Michaels in any way.
As a result of the Curtain Call, Triple H did not receive a planned push as that year’s King of the Ring winner, the honor instead going to Stone Cold Steve Austin. Many believe this win began Austin’s massively successful run as a main eventer, and ‘Trips has clearly rebounded from the punishment just fine, but at the time it must have felt disastrously unfair.
1. The Montreal Screwjob
The Montreal Screwjob is one of the hallmark events that ushered in the Attitude Era, one of the most successful and exciting periods of WWE’s history. But it also remains as one of the most public and controversial occurrences of backstage politics bleeding onto the screen.
Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels never quite got along, Hart believing that Michaels was a veritable embodiment of all that was wrong with the business. Michaels was one of McMahon’s favorites, and so was receiving a big main event push at the time that Hart was already riding the top of the card. Despite their offscreen contentiousness, the two produced timeless classics in their run, but the bad quickly outweighed the good and led to Bret Hart finally leaving the company for WCW.
McMahon needed to get the championship off of Hart, but Hart did not want to lose to Michaels in Montreal; thus, the collusion between McMahon, Michaels, and referee Earl Hebner resulted. A false submission was called, insultingly enough while Michaels had Hart in the sharpshooter, his own submission move, and Shawn Michaels walked out of Montreal champion.
Although Bret Hart should have acted more professionally and dropped the title before leaving the company, there’s no doubt that WWE could have handled the whole situation in a less underhanded way.
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