Professional athletes are often held to a certain standard, not only in the field of competition, but also in how they act accordingly. Professional leagues like the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball are often fining athletes for not following professional conduct policies, in addition to imposing on them strict drug and alcohol testing.
But the WWE is an entirely different beast. Pro wrestlers who are able to make it to the biggest stage in their industry don’t have an off-season. They work 300 or more shows in any given year. It’s already a very difficult working environment and only the most dedicated and passionate wrestlers are willing to work that kind of schedule.
And just like any major sports league, the WWE has a list of rules that all WWE wrestlers must follow. Many of them would make sense when it comes to personal conduct and other similar issues. But over the years, wrestlers have come out in shoot interviews about some of the oddest rules that they’ve apparently broken, some unwritten -- ones that have been enforced by founder and chief executive officer Vince McMahon.
The man who has jokingly been called crazy by wrestlers and fans certainly has been the subject of a lot of recent criticism, especially through the WWE facing a threatening Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy/Traumatic Brain Injuries WWE lawsuit. Over 200 pages from the lawsuit feature more than 50 former WWE wrestlers with complaints and concerns. All of them have been subject to some of the weirdest rules imaginable.
15 Mr. McMahon Wants To Own His Wrestlers’ Names
When James Harrell was working in professional wrestling during the 1980s, he had worked with a Russian gimmick named Boris Zukhov. It had a little bit of success when he worked briefly for the American Wrestling Association. But he would make the jump to the WWE and be given a very similar name with a different spelling – Boris Zhukov. The reason was for the WWE to be able to own the ring name.
Harrell actually ended up changing his name legally to “Boris Zhukov.” This apparently didn’t go over very well with Mr. McMahon. Shortly after that happened, Harrell was rarely used in the WWE and failed to get any kind of push in the company. Harrell left wrestling altogether when he left WWE in 1991 to become a truck driver.
14 He Also Wants The Exclusive Rights to Gimmicks
Vince McMahon wasn’t wanting to have the exclusive rights to James Harrell’s “Boris Zhukov” character. In fact, he’s usually trying to own a wrestler in an effort to prevent them from working anywhere else. Rick Jones mentioned in the lawsuit documents that he was assigned the Black Bart gimmick because McMahon wanted to “own your name,” citing Dusty Rhodes in the 214-page document.
Butch Reed was also forced to change his gimmick in which his hair was dyed blonde. McMahon wanted wrestlers to have gimmicks that he created. This included name changes for many independent wrestling stars coming to the WWE. Kevin Steen became Kevin Owens. El Generico became Sami Zayn. Bryan Danielson was renamed Daniel Bryan for the WWE. Only a few like CM Punk, Samoa Joe and AJ Styles have been able to keep their names when signing their WWE contracts.
13 Days Off Were Rare for WWE Wrestlers
There’s no surprise that a WWE wrestler has one of the most hectic schedule of any professional athlete. Several former WWE wrestlers were asked about their workload within the document. The commonality between nearly all of them involved a schedule of more than 300 wrestling shows in a single year. This can lead to Vince McMahon essentially limiting the number of days off for contracted talents.
Butch Reed was noted for having worked seven days a week on a regular basis. Jim Brunzell, who worked for WWE from 1985 to 1993, recalled working 43 consecutive days. He also averaged about four to five days in any given month in which he didn’t have a match. If that wasn’t tough enough, Rick Jones, the former Black Bart, noted that he once competed in 10 matches on one single night.
12 McMahon Punished Wrestlers for Changing Travel Plans
There’s no surprise that there would be some kind of punishment if a wrestler was unable to attend an event due to travel issues -- types of changes that aren’t caused by weather delays. It was not enough for Vince that his wrestlers arrived for an event; they had to adhere to a schedule that he set and if they didn't, there was a problem.
Among the complaints by the former WWE wrestlers suing the company, Joseph Laurinaitis (a.k.a. Road Warrior Animal) was threatened for changing his flight from 7 a.m. to later in the day. Considering that WWE wrestlers are often traveling all the time for 90 percent of the year, maybe Laurinaitis wanted to get some extra sleep, but McMahon apparently frowned upon that.
11 Akeem’s yellow Dashiki was required
George Gray was once viewed as one of the most dominant men in professional wrestling. As the One Man Gang, he ruled throughout the United States in promotions like ECW and the American Wrestling Association. But in the WWE, his One Man Gang character didn’t get over well with the WWE officials. This led to them providing Gray a new character as Akeem the African Dream.
Despite Akeem being billed as hailing from the deepest parts of Africa, Gray was white. The memorable blue and yellow Dashiki was required attire for Gray to wear. This wasn’t the first time McMahon was forcing a gimmick that was obviously based on racial stereotypes. The Akeem character didn’t last long in the late 1980s before he would work for WCW and other wrestling promotions.
10 Dress Codes Enforced While Traveling
Dress codes are usually a common thing for athletes to have to follow. Every team has its own dress code, although some leagues can actually fine players for wearing things that weren’t considered “professional.” The National Basketball Association has recently made changes after basketball players were beginning to develop a negative view at post-game press conferences. However, the WWE has often seemed stricter in their policies.
Joseph Laurinaitis, known best as Road Warrior Animal, was once threatened to be fined for wearing jeans on an airplane. He wasn’t alone as King Kong Bundy was also threatened to be fined when he was wearing shorts during a flight to a WWE show. Considering how some of the more modern superstars dress, they would have likely been broke in the 1980s.
9 No Sneezing Allowed, Seriously
This wasn’t mentioned in the recent lawsuit, but it’s become a bit of a funny story online. Vince McMahon has developed a reputation of being a workaholic. That means being sick is not acceptable. Beyond that, McMahon doesn’t like it when someone sneezed around him. McMahon would tell the culprits guilty of this “crime” to control themselves. However, he was also not happy with himself for sneezing.
During a Q&A portion on his blog, Jim Ross once noted that McMahon doesn’t like anything that he can’t control. That includes sneezing. Former WWE writer Dave Lagana also noted McMahon wasn’t a fan of being sick at all. Not sneezing around McMahon is certainly a silly rule that even Ross said most of the people behind the scenes found to be humorous.
8 Vince McMahon Hates Lawyers
It is very understandable when hearing that Anthony Norris, better known by WWE fans as Ahmed Johnson, would consider bringing legal counsel to a meeting with WWE officials. Norris was a former football player who spent a few seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. Given his experience in a professional sport, it's understandable that he maintained the mentality that it was important to have a lawyer present during business meetings to ensure that his interests were being addressed.
However, it was noted in the recent concussion lawsuit that Vince McMahon “hates lawyers.” Therefore, McMahon told Norris that his attorney was not welcomed. In McMahon’s eyes, there was nothing to negotiate during their 1995 meeting at the WWE headquarters in Connecticut. Probably not a good way to start a working relationship, but Johnson did work for WWE until 1998.
7 No Pay for “Doing Nothing”
Professional athletes are usually expected to make a certain amount of money in their weekly paychecks. That’s why they sign contracts to play for a certain team for a certain amount of time. However, not all WWE wrestlers have these guaranteed contracts. Many of them are viewed as independent contractors who are paid based on their appearances, as well as their royalties. But when a wrestler is promised a weekly pay rate, they expect to get that each week.
Timothy Smith worked for WWE at a promised rate of $500 per week; he cited J.J. Dillon. He worked as Rex King in the WWE through parts of 1994 and 1995. But during that time, Smith stated in the recent lawsuit he only received one week’s pay, despite having appeared on a few episodes of RAW in the Well Dunn tag team. Smith quotes Dillon saying, "The emperor says he can’t afford to pay you for doing nothing.”
6 Former Wrestlers Don’t Receive Health Benefits
There is a risk when deciding to make any type of sport a professional career. That’s why many pro football players are often in the news for contract holdouts from NFL training camps. In the world of professional wrestling, there aren’t many promotions that offer a lot of guarantees, especially if you aren’t a major superstar like Hulk Hogan, John Cena or even a legend like Rey Mysterio.
Many former WWE wrestlers have stated in the recent lawsuit that there are no health benefits available to them after working for the WWE. This leads to many having to find work after wrestling. Terry Scott Szopinski went from being The Warlord more than 20 years ago to a nightclub bouncer. James Harrell, the former Boris Zhukov, now works as a truck driver. More recently Mick Foley has public stated that he doesn't have the health insurance to cover a needed hip surgery.
5 Wrestlers Expected to “Lick Their Wounds”
Today’s version of the WWE is definitely a lot different than the WWE from the 1980s and 1990s. Even from the Ruthless Aggression Era, there have been many changes to how the WWE treats their superstars. Many superstars in the recent lawsuit commented that they had to essentially take care of themselves. Injuries were a sign of weakness and could take a push away from an up-and-comer.
According to a statement by Marty Jannetty found within the court documents, WWE doctors were there essentially for nothing more than to dole out medications. There were even stories of wrestlers helping other wrestlers to pop shoulders back into place. Sylvain Grenier added that seeing the WWE medical staff was “discouraged.” Butch Reed said the backstage culture dictated that wrestlers "take yourself up, spit on it, put a band aid on it.”
4 Don’t Talk About Injuries Publicly
CM Punk certainly faced a lot of heat from the WWE when he left the company in 2014. There were a lot of reasons for this that could be listed in another article, but one of the issues the WWE officials had with Punk was when he publicly questioned the WWE medical staff with concerns regarding a growth on his back. This prompted the WWE and members of the medical staff to file a lawsuit against Punk.
But the WWE actually makes that a rule for active WWE wrestlers. When Rodney Mack was working for the WWE in the early 2000s, he was apparently told that talking about injuries to the public could actually cost someone their job. He would add that to his complaints about being booked in an “anti-white” character early in his career.
3 Concussions Were Once Viewed As A Minor Concern
In recent years, the WWE has faced many concerns regarding the effects of concussions and brain injuries. The most recent lawsuit featuring more than 50 former wrestlers is very likely a small fraction of how many WWE wrestlers dealt with their bell being rung. It wasn’t until the tragic Chris Benoit murder-suicide incident that people began to pay more attention to the health of WWE Superstars.
Chavo Guerrero, Sr. was noted in the lawsuit as stating that there was very little treatment administered to injured wrestlers unless there was a serious emergency. Mark Jindrak was part of the WWE roster in the early 2000s and said many other wrestlers joked about someone having their bell rung. However, Jindrak even mentioned that WWE officials were also involved in the jokes. It was once a poor culture that Vince McMahon created.
2 Wrestlers Sometimes Had to Work Injured
One of the biggest reasons there are player associations for athletes in various leagues is to protect the players. No athlete should have to work while dealing with an injury of any kind, especially when having a broken orbital bone. That was the injury from which Chavo Guerrero, Jr., suffered in a 2005 match while he was the WWE Cruiserweight Champion. The injury kept him out of action for weeks, but not before one more match.
The WWE booked Guerrero to drop the championship in a match in which he was defeated for the Cruiserweight Championship. It was one of the issues that Guerrero listed in the recent lawsuit about being hurt during his WWE career. Having to compete while suffering an injury, especially a broken orbital bone, wouldn’t be allowed in any players' union in another sport.
1 Don’t Use The Word “Wrestler”
This rule has seemingly lost some steam in recent years. The WWE has evolved to a different style that has featured superstars like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens. However, it wasn’t too long ago when Vince McMahon would tell the announcers not to use the word “wrestler” or “professional wrestling.” That’s because the WWE wanted to brand themselves as “sports-entertainment.”
Instead of “wrestler,” McMahon wanted his announcers to call his talents “superstars.” This rule also branched into wrestling promos and other vignettes. Certainly, this bothered many enthusiasts and also some who were working for the WWE. As you recall, it was a focal point for Joey Styles' big shoot promo back in 2006. However, the WWE has gone through some changes and that once forbidden word has made it on television a few times.
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