Although WWE Superstars are known as independent contractors, the WWE likes to micromanage every aspect of their lives.
Back in the day, when kayfabe was still strictly adhered to, their actions were even more tightly regulated so as to not dilute on-screen storylines with their exploits outside the ring. For instance, when Iron Shiek and Hacksaw Jim Duggan were caught smoking green together, Vince McMahon went absolutely ballistic, even going as far as introducing mandatory drug testing for the entire roster.
While some construed it as an overreaction, it just goes to show how fussy the WWE is about the off-screen actions of its talent. In short, WWE Superstars are expected to act as ambassadors for the company wherever they go. And if they even put one foot wrong, they're held accountable for it.
If that wasn't enough of a minefield to tread carefully around, WWE Superstars also have to toe the company line religiously. They're expected to honour their contracts, fulfill everything asked of them by the top brass and most importantly, never ever cross the Boss. If any WWE Superstar fails to comply with any of the aforementioned requirements, they're punished - often on television programming and in humiliating ways.
Now, that may come across as harsh to many of you but that's just how the pro wrestling industry, and especially Vince McMahon, functions.
In an industry where good work is rewarded by getting a push on television programming, doesn't it make sense that falling short of expectations is also dealt with through the same medium?
On that note, here are 15 instances when the WWE punished wrestlers on-screen for their off-screen actions.
15 Lana Humiliated By The Rock For Announcing Engagement With Rusev
WWE is generally serious about projecting its romantic angles. When it pairs certain Superstars together, they are expected to pretend that the chemistry between them is real, or at least, not dispell the storyline publicly.
But when Lana was involved with Dolph Ziggler, and Rusev with Summer Rae, the last thing the WWE wanted was an engagement picture between the Ravishing Russian and the Bulgarian Brute surfacing on social media.
The storyline was quickly dropped (they had no choice, really) and Lana (not Rusev, mind you) was punished for breaking kayfabe.
So when The Rock drove up to Monday Night Raw in his pickup truck for a guest appearance, he was asked to slut shame Lana...which he did vividly, in inimitable Great One fashion.
On paper, it looked like Lana alone had to bear the brunt of being addressed as a Wisconsin Wheelbarrow, but the look of dejection on Rusev's face as the camera panned out on him listening in to their conversation, told a tale of its own.
14 Triple H
The Curtain Call incident that saw The Kilq engage in one final, fateful embrace at Madison Square Garden, remains infamous till today not just because of its narrative but also its fallout.
Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were saying their goodbyes before jumping ship to WCW, leaving behind the companionship of WWE Champion Shawn Michaels and budding megastar Triple H.
Only, that they chose to publicly showcase it after a match between Nash and Michaels at MSG ticked off Vince McMahon to no end.
Wrestlers were expected to uphold kayfabe and a blatant transgression such as this - between storyline babyfaces and heels no less - demanded punishment.
Hall and Nash were gone. Michaels was champion. So Vince zeroed in on the easiest target, Triple H, yanking the push he was supposed to receive from underneath him and having Austin win the King of the Ring tournament that year instead.
13 Jeff Jarrett
In those days, the WWE wasn't quite as cautious with tying up wrestler contracts so that they don't get leverage over the company.
But Alundra Blayze jolted them out of that comfort zone when she binned the WWE Women's Championship on WCW television, and Vince McMahon was desperate to avoid that kind of public humiliation again.
A few years after Blayze left, Jeff Jarrett was still in the middle of an Intercontinental Title run when his contract would run out. He'd practically struck the lottery. With Vince McMahon willing to go to any lengths to prevent another talent from going over to their rivals with a title from the WWE, Jarrett reportedly held him up for a sum of $300,000 to sign on again to drop the title. Vince, however, was furious at being extorted and decided that he had to make an example of Jarrett, having him lose the belt to a woman, Chyna.
12 Roman Reigns Loses His Summer Push
Roman Reigns was slapped with a 30-day suspension for violating the Wellness Policy during the middle of a push to the moon and back.
That was right around the Brand Split, meaning that while Dean Ambrose won the WWE Championship to become the poster boy of SmackDown Live, Reigns was a strong favorite to grab the proverbial brass ring on the red brand.
Only, the WWE felt that it would send a wrong message to the remainder of the roster if he still won the newly minted WWE Universal Title and instead, decided to make an example of him.
It's not often that Reigns loses but even if he does, it isn't clean or he's made to look like a monster coming out of it like he did against Strowman in the Ambulance match.
But that night, Reigns stared at the lights cleanly for Seth Rollins in an eliminator, who then went on to lose to Finn Balor in the title match.
Balor became the first ever WWE Universal Champion while Reigns was reminded with a firm slap on the wrist that even he - Vince McMahon's golden boy - isn't exempt from following the rulebook.
11 Owen Hart Jobs To DX & Gets Blue Blazer Gimmick
Once Bret Hart had left the WWE after getting screwed over, and Jim Neidhart and British Bulldog followed suit shortly, Owen Hart was the only member of the Hart Family who was still left plying his trade in the company.
Unfortunately for him, tensions between Bret and Vince following the Montreal Screwjob still hadn't blown over and he was left to cope with the backlash single handedly. The common theory is that that was the reason a supremely talented worker like Owen was forced to repeatedly job to Shawn Michaels and co.
Owen also had a problem with some of the more risque, overly sexualized storylines of the Attitude Era. Reportedly, there was a storyline planned for Debra to leave Jeff Jarrett, Owen's tag team partner, for Owen after an affair. Owen being a married man, wasn't comfortable with the storyline and was saddled with the cartoony Blue Blazer gimmick.
His situation, however, would only take a turn for the worse when he would tragically lose his life when the cable snapped as he descended to the ring from the rafters.
You couldn't blame Vince McMahon directly for his death, but he had to shoulder some responsibility for making Owen enact a ridiculous gimmick in the first place and approving the meaningless comedic stunt that went terribly wrong.
10 Ricky Steamboat Becomes 'Dragon'
After wrestling an instant classic with Randy Macho Man Savage at WrestleMania III and winning the Intercontinental Title in the process, Ricky Steamboat's stock in the WWE had never been higher.
He was an incredible worker and was really gaining traction with the audience as well. Unfortunately for him, that's also when he would ask Vince McMahon for some time off so that he could be with his pregnant wife. Little did he know then, that all his good work was undone in that moment.
Vince took exception to his request (god knows why) but would accept it, only to completely retract the push he was receiving when he would return to programming almost a year later. Steamboat would be assigned a new gimmick, Dragon, that didn't really tie in with the persona that was gaining momentum before he had left. He would be reduced to blowing fire out of his mouth like a cheap carnival attraction and wearing a ridiculous costume that had him looking more like a rooster than a dragon.
Was it surprising at all, then, that he would leave the WWE shortly after that?
9 Adrian Adonis becomes 'Adorable'
Adrian Adonis was a wrestler in the 80s who initially made his name as a technically able singles worker in WWE and AWA, before transitioning into the tag team scene. He even won the WWE Tag Championships with his partner Dick Murdoch once.
But that leg of his career was quickly parcelled up when the WWE decided that they had to punish him for rapidly gaining weight. He had once rocked a badass biker gimmick (when he'd still been in shape) but for some reason, the WWE decided to do away with it and give him an effeminate gimmick called 'Adorable' Adrian Adonis to humiliate him.
He'd dress like a woman and act like one too, as the WWE attached every possible homophobic stereotype to his gimmick in an attempt to garner heat.
It was done in extremely poor taste and although Adorable Adrian Adonis did establish himself as a solid performer in that era, the fact that the gimmick was only shoved down his throat as punishment for gaining weight reflects the despicable mentality of the WWE.
8 'The Self Destruction Of The Ultimate Warrior'
The Ultimate Warrior was afforded an almighty push in the WWE because he was touted as Hulk Hogan's replacement. But there was one small hitch - he never ever got around to truly replacing him.
And it didn't help that The Hulkster stayed on in the WWE during most of this time, still making obscene amounts of money. Naturally, Warrior found his push undercut by his presence and wasn't happy that he wasn't earning on par with him either.
Perhaps it was genuinely a financially-motivated move or perhaps, he was just a little insecure about his standing with Hogan still around. Either way, Warrior didn't endear himself to Vince McMahon when he refused to show up for work unless he was paid equally.
It remained a sticking point in the relationship between the two parties - that quickly deteriorated, by the way - and even years after he retired from pro wrestling, Vince McMahon would release a damning documentary titled 'The Self Destruction of Ultimate Warrior" that practically ripped his legacy to shreds.
The only silver lining in this situation was that the WWE was able to mend the bridges with him just before he passed, but it took Vince a long, long time to come around.
7 Lilian Garcia Forced To Kiss Christy Hemme On-Screen
For a while in WWE, getting HLA - hot lesbian action - didn't seem like a big deal. The WWE would constantly push the envelope and have two ladies get very up close with each other, because hey - that's what the crowds wanted. One time though Lilian Garcia had to run an angle with Christy Hemme and it wasn't all in good fun. No, this was a form of punishment directed at Lilian Garcia because she had reportedly gotten a little too rowdy on a European tour back in 2004. Lilian apparently had a little too much to drink one night, causing her to oversleep, miss her bus and force WWE to change her travel arrangements. Instead of simply giving her a warning, they booked her for this lesbian kiss for an angle that went absolutely nowhere. Interesting disciplinary tactics...
6 Jim Ross - Take Your Pick
Jim Ross has never been in Vince McMahon's Kiss My Ass club (the real one) like some others (like JBL, for instance) and perhaps for that reason alone, has always been bullied by the Boss and handed the short end of the stick in many situations.
The segment mocking J.R.'s Bell's Palsy was an extremely distasteful example of that.
But it would seem that Vince McMahon never really tired of ill-treating a person the remainder of the pro wrestling fraternity dearly loved, and had the last laugh when he sacked him after a messy WWE 2k14 promotional event. Even then, it wasn't J.R.'s fault as much as it was Naitch's. Ric Flair's son had passed away only recently and a thoroughly troubled (and inebriated) Flair made a right fool out of himself on the panel.
Obviously McMahon couldn't fault the legendary Flair and even if he could, he didn't because he was only too happy to use the whole fiasco as grounds to finally terminate J.R.'s contract with the WWE.
5 Kharma's Push Halting (And Getting Released)
Although Kharma wasn't specifically punished on-screen, this entry deserves a mention on the list purely because of how undeserving her punishment was in the first place.
Kharma could have been the female monster heel that the WWE Women's roster was yearning for, had an unfortunate turn of events not completely derailed her career with the company.
No sooner had Kharma signed with the WWE, reports surfaced that she was pregnant and had to be pulled from performing. But a miscarriage would ensure that instead of coming back once she'd given birth, Kharma would hit the harrowing depths of depression and put on a lot of weight as a result.
Considering the nightmare that she had just undergone, the least the WWE could do was be empathetic towards her cause...but instead, she was released from her contract and never to be seen in the company again.
She did tease a return in the future, even going as far as accepting her culpability in being released, but it never really came together for her after that.
4 Sting Jobbing To Triple H
Sting; the Icon of WCW, the quintessential franchise player and easily one of the most over characters in pro wrestling history.
He was a one man army who took the fight to the NWO, rappelling down from the rafters, baseball bat in hand, undeterred by numbers and fuelled by a singular mission - to preserve and fight for the integrity of WCW.
This piety, it would seem, extended into reality as well, as he went down with the ship when WCW was put out of business. And for 14 long years, he stayed that way.
Until, in 2015, he finally signed with the WWE.
People were genuinely excited to see him there as they believed that the Monday Night Wars was water under the bridge for Vince McMahon. They thought that the Sting character would get a fair shake after so much time.
Only, Vince proved yet again that he was as petty as they come, booking Sting (and his arch enemies, NWO) to lose to Triple H (and DX) at WrestleMania. It was one final "f you" from Vince to the memory of his bitter rivals, and Sting bore the brunt of it.
Talk about keeping a grudge.
3 Dusty Rhodes' Gimmick
Although Dusty Rhodes is celebrated as a legend today in the WWE, Vince McMahon didn't always hold him in high regard.
In fact, when Dusty signed on with the company WWE after his spell as both a performer and a booker at NWA - WWE's premier competition in those days - Vince gave him the 'common man' gimmick only in order to humiliate him.
He would fiddle around with toilet bowls and wear ridiculous polka-dotted costumes, and it was solely down to Dusty's improvisation and charisma that he made the gimmick work.
Vince's ill-will towards him may have died down in the following years as Dusty distinguished himself with his brilliant mind for the business, but he still had to work hard to get himself out of the doghouse.
And it wasn't the last time that Vince McMahon would punish the talent that signed on with him just because they worked for his rivals at one time.
2 The Montreal Screwjob
No surprises here.
The Montreal Screwjob definitely earns a spot on this list thanks to how blatantly Vince McMahon screwed over Bret Hart. Bret Hart was embroiled in a heated feud with Shawn Michaels then, which was fuelled by the real life disdain the men shared for one another, and was understandably loath to drop his WWE Championship in his home country of Canada.
Just to be clear. Bret didn't refuse to drop the belt, period. He merely asked not to have him drop it in his home country, to a man he had so little regard for. Vince being Vince, paranoid and conniving as ever, decided that the Title change absolutely had to be made and colluded with referee Earl Hebner and Shawn Michaels to screw Bret out of the title.
The finish could have gone down in any other way, really. A fast three count, a disqualification or even a generic submission hold. But no. Vince had the referee call for the bell when Shawn had Bret Hart in his patented move, the sharp shooter, in his home country of Canada.
Not only was it a screwjob of epic proportions, but it was also a cold message Vince McMahon sent out to the remainder of the roster that this was what would happen if they refused to play ball with the Boss.
1 Mark Henry - For His Large Contract
Unlike many other wrestlers on this list, Mark Henry's only mistake was signing on with the WWE.
He was probably picked up because he was a legitimate strongman and Vince saw a lot of potential in exploiting that. But clearly, the Boss overestimated his own booking prowess when he signed Mark Henry onto an extremely long- term contract.
Predictably, he ran out of ideas with what to do with him pretty quickly and ended up shoving him from one unbecoming storyline to the next to force him to quit. And just when you think that the WWE couldn't misuse him any further, the next storyline would be even more disgusting than the last.
At one point, he was even involved in a storyline where he fathered a giant hand with Mae Young. (Sigh).
Through it all, however, Mark Henry refused to give in to the bullying tactics and managed to stick on with the WWE. But the price he paid for his doggedness was steep.