The world of pro wrestling is a very fickle one. Success in the early days of the business used to be predicated on in-ring talent and the ability to sell tickets by marveling spectators with skill and technique. When wrestling transitioned into "sports entertainment" that’s when the game changed completely. Many try to make it big in the business, and usually to get anywhere far in such a cutthroat industry you have to know how to play the political game.
Playing the game could make you quite a few enemies, because usually you have to step over people on the way to stardom. There are only so many key spots at the top, so if it means stepping on toes or even throwing people under the bus, some do whatever it takes to get noticed.
That's where character assassination comes in. Character assassination is defined as "a deliberate and sustained process that aims to destroy the credibility and reputation of a person, institution, social group, or nation." Usually doing so involves employing tactics such as exaggeration, misleading half-truths, or manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person. At worst, this could lead to the person being rejected and shunned in the wrestling world, from which very few recover. The WWE and the defunct WCW is guilty of some very public character assassinations that have hurt a wrestler's standing in the industry and have even hurt their personal lives.
This list touches on some of the worst character assassination attempts made on various wrestlers that were shockingly displayed on live television.
29 Lita Slut-Shaming
Lita broke the mold for women's wrestling during the new millennium with her fantastic talent. Her ability to perform moves which before only men had pulled off, like the hurricanrana or the top rope moonsault, made her a pioneer in the women's division. Her unique personality and style earned her a deserving place in the WWE Hall of Fame and made her a role model to many young girls who even went on to become wrestlers themselves like AJ Lee and Bayley.
Lita had a tremendous career so it's quite a shame that her last years as an active WWE superstar were tarnished by real-life drama that was exploited in WWE storylines. Lita's unfaithfulness to then-boyfriend Matt Hardy by sleeping with Edge on the road was made public and it did not paint her in a positive light. WWE owning the story and turning it into an angle didn't help matters as it turned the crowd against her with vile chants of "slut" being hurled at her any time she appeared on TV.
While Lita was playing a heel and played the character well, it came at a price, almost eclipsing her respectful body of work she had worked so hard to establish. It took a lengthy absence away from the spotlight after her retirement for her to recover from such damage.
27 Daniel Bryan's WWE Treatment
Even though the leader of the YES! Movement achieved the pinnacle of success during his career, it did not come easy. Bryan had a lot of factors working against him to be a major player in the WWE despite being a phenomenal technical wrestler. His height and his physique definitely made for a harder climb but it appeared on top of that, his personality was also attacked—not by fellow wrestlers but by the announcers who are typically supposed to be objective.
During Bryan's run in NXT and his early initial run on the WWE main roster, WWE's lead announcer Michael Cole would spare no expense ripping into Bryan for his lack of personality, the fact that he was a vegan, a virgin and didn't own a television. These sentiments were really sentiments of the man behind announce team, Vince McMahon. Vince apparently didn't like Bryan's quirks and had the announcers air them all out quite possibly in an attempt to dissuade the WWE fans from getting behind Bryan and liking him.
Thankfully, the bashing and veiled insults didn't work and in fact made fans more vocally for Bryan to the point where Bryan was slotted into a WrestleMania main event and capture the WWE Championship.
25 John Cena's Promos vs. The Rock
John Cena and The Rock were slated for a showdown at WrestleMania which was dubbed "Once In a Lifetime"--which ended up being false advertising as they would meet again—and the war of words before the war inside the ring got quite ugly at some points.
The Rock was returning from his full-time schedule in Hollywood to take a main event spot which rubbed a number of wrestlers backstage the wrong way and the most vocal about it was Cena. Cena, even before the Rock was coming back, would trash the Rock about being a part-timer and only returning to promote a movie or outside project. Cena was actually echoing the sentiments of the WWE as a whole who felt Rock's head was too big being in Hollywood.
The promos leading up to the contest took a route which was confusing to some fans who felt it should have been more about who is better between the two rather than about the battle between loyalty towards WWE and part-time outsider vs. Full-time face of the company. Cena would attack Rock's character and his loyalty by calling him phoney and even calling out promo notes he had on his hand. The Rock was visibly rattled by some of the unscripted barbs that may have not been approved by him and were deliberately stated to make Rock look bad.
23 The DX Trying To Invade WCW
During the height of the Monday Night Wars, both WCW and WWE broke the cardinal rule of "don't mention or allude to the competition" by openly acknowledging their rival company, if only to ridicule and mock them as the inferior product. Eric Bischoff would famously challenge Vince McMahon to a fight on PPV and WWE would respond by Degeneration-X threatening to show up on their doorstep to go to war. Bischoff would respond smugly, telling the DX crew to bring it on.
Apparently, DX wasn't bluffing as the following week Triple H, X-pac, Chyna and the New Age Outlaws showed up to the Norfolk Scope in Norfolk, VA where Nitro was taking place flanked with a "tank" and battle gear. They got all the way to the front door and were turned away by arena security. DX took this opportunity to lay into WCW for being a cowardly promotion. The stunt did some serious damage to WCW's reputation as being "where the big boys play."
21 Shawn Michael's Hulk Hogan Impersonation
It was supposed to be a rivalry for the ages that was meant to be a trilogy but the Hulk Hogan vs. Shawn Michaels feud became a one-and-done affair due to being muddied up by clashing egos and backstage politics. Shawn Michaels was enjoying a great babyface run in 2005 and there were talks for a feud with Hulk Hogan which was slated to be three matches. Both would win one match apiece and then have a rubber match between the two. However, Hogan put his creative control to work, preferring HBK to turn heel and for it to be just one match. It's no surprise that this ticked off the Showstopper.
Michaels would comply, turning heel and doing the job for Hogan at SummerSlam but Michaels would change the dynamic of the feud by filming a pre-taped promo where HBK would imitate Hulk Hogan on a parody version of Larry King live. In the now infamous skit, HBK would rail on Hogan and his backstage sleazy business demeanor and his age. Hogan was said to be furious because it hit too close to home.
19 WWE Reacts To Stone Cold's Walk Out
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin was a take no BS type guy on TV and it showed off-camera as well. In 2002, Austin was booked to lose a qualifying match for the King of The Ring against Brock Lesnar on RAW. Austin, who was already upset with the direction the WWE was going with his character, thought it was a terrible idea to let that play out on free TV with no hype. Instead of going along with the script, Austin would walk out of the arena and not appear on the show. What the WWE would do in return for Austin's unprofessionalism certainly showed their animosity over Austin's decision.
The WWE would report that "Austin took his ball and went home," basically painting Stone Cold in the light as a petulant little child who wasn't getting his way. Vince McMahon would come out on RAW and vent about Austin's walkout and then a returning Rock would come out and rip into Stone Cold for not caring about the fans and being unprofessional. The WWE would even go as far as to remove his merchandise from WWE's online shop and remove all of Austin's likenesses from their website.
A documentary would even be created over Austin's walkout showing how far WWE would go to smear someone for not following their rules.
17 Edge and Christian Insult Sunny
The Edge and Christian Show on the WWE Network is a quirky little comedy show with insider references and jokes that only those knowledgeable of backstage antics would get. Whether it's making fun of TNA, ragging on old terrible gimmicks of the past or storylines that had gone awry, it's WWE's version of South Park in it's irreverence.
The irreverent humor may have rubbed a certain former WWE diva the wrong way when Edge and Christian made a veiled reference toward Tammy "Sunny" Sytch.
A parody ad aired during the program making fun of Sunny's past DUI's and various arrests for domestic violence as well as her cancer diagnosis that she informed her fans and followers about and asked for help with medical bills. Sunny would go off on Twitter bashing Edge and Christian for the slanderous insult calling them both "douchebags" and "Ugly Canadians" that had crushes on Sunny.
15 Muhammad Hassan Is Killed Off
This entry here is ironic because it is a character assassination where the character was actually killed off by WWE for good.
In 2005 the WWE introduced a new character by the name of Muhammad Hassan. Hassan's (played by Italian-American Marc Copani) gimmick was that of an Arab-American who was upset that he was discriminated against and profiled for his background and culture. He railed against the WWE for its unfair treatment and its fans for looking at him as evil. It was a gimmick that was smart and relevant at the time. Hassan was booed as a heel not for his background but for his arrogant, holier than thou attitude.
However when Hassan moved to Smackdown in the WWE draft they essentially turned him into a terrorist caricature when they ran an angle where ski-masked men attacked the Undertaker and then carried off a body the same day at the 2005 London bombings. The WWE apologized for their insensitivity and bad timing but Hassan's character had to take the fall. Within a few weeks he was powerbombed through the stage by the Undertaker at the Great American Bash and never seen again. Though this isn't necessarily a character assassination by definition, WWE's mishandling of the character of Muhammad Hassan derailed a promising young career for the man behind the gimmick.
13 CM Punk Pipebomb Promo
While this may have been a worked shoot promo, this bit of character assassination is particularly interesting as it was given the okay by the person being thrown under the bus. CM Punk in 2011 was on his way out of the company. Punk's contract had expired and he did not have any desire to re-sign, citing bitterness towards the company in terms of its direction and politics. He let his true feelings be known on an episode of RAW with the promo that has been famously been dubbed as the "Pipebomb" promo.
Punk would rail against the WWE oligarchy, particularly their golden child John Cena and then would focus his vitirol towards Vince McMahon, criticizing his business acumen and his legacy by insulting his daughter Stephanie and son-in-law Triple H. The brutally honest promo caught the attention of new and lapsed WWE fans who were shocked by a promo of this magnitude airing on live television.
As newsworthy as this was, in the end it was all part of an angle that kickstarted the Summer of Punk. Even though it was just a storyline, the resentment and bitterness was real and it oozed out of Punk's lips.
11 Scott Steiner Tears Into Ric Flair
In the final years of WCW, the organization was a mess. The Monday Night Wars had vastly shifted in the WWE's favor and WCW was losing in the ratings and as a result, losing tremendous amounts of money as the audience began to move towards the WWE. The booking was terrible and getting worse week by week to the point that people began getting away with things that weren't slated to be on the script.
Scott Steiner would prove to be a prime example of WCW's floundering condition. Steiner was a career midcarder finally being given the ball in the main event scene in WCW in 2000. Steiner had a respectable run with his Big Poppa Pump persona, but he had detractors and he let it be known who they were.
In February 2000, Steiner would shoot on Ric Flair stating that whenever Flair was on screen, millions would change the channel to watch RAW and closed by saying WCW sucked. Surprisingly, he wouldn’t receive any punishment, which goes to show how much of a unmitigated disaster WCW was at the time.
9 Vince McMahon's "Bret Screwed Bret" Interview
The Montreal Screwjob has been repeatedly cited as one of the most scandalous moments in wrestling history and for good reason. The WWE pulled the rug out from underneath Bret "The Hitman" Hart, double crossing him with a match finish he wasn't clued in on and humiliating him in front of his hometown crowd. There are generally two sides that have formed from this incident—those who feel that it was the right thing to do and best for business and those who disagree and feel WWE went too far.
The WWE collectively fell in the first party and to add insult to injury Vince McMahon conducted an interview that has gone down in history as the "Bret Screwed Bret" interview. In it, Vince would explain his version of events and go on to claim that Bret essentially held the company hostage with his contract and with his refusal to do business and drop the championship to Shawn Michaels. The interview made Bret seem like the villain in the whole matter and further caused bitter resentment toward the company by the Hitman that wouldn't be forgiven for over a decade.
7 WCW Parodies Jim Ross
Jim Ross has been the subject of many mockeries during his tenure in the wrestling business. Vince McMahon had mocked his surgeries in a tasteless parody sketch on Monday Night RAW as well as other times where Vince had poked fun at the Hall of Fame commentator. But what takes the cake is when WCW took its turn at making fun of Good Ol' JR with the "Oklahoma" character.
Played by former WWE writer Ed Ferrera, the Oklahoma persona was basically an impersonation of Jim Ross, from his voice and his mannerisms as well as mimicking Ross's struggle with Bell's Palsy. Ferrara's portrayal caught a lot of flack for making fun of someone with a debilitating disease that nearly cost the man his life and it disappeared quickly from TV. Ross, it's safe to say, was not amused. Ed Ferrara would reach out to Jim Ross and tearfully apologize for his mean impersonation and all was thankfully forgiven.
5 Billionaire Ted Sketches
In 1996, the Monday Night Wars were really starting to sizzle as WCW would buy off WWE stars Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage and soon thereafter Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, using talent that WWE made famous against them in efforts to win the battle of the promotions. WWE was in the midst of the 'New Generation' movement, focusing upon the new crop of talent coming up in the WWE and distancing themselves from the stars of yesteryear.
Feeling threatened by the WCW, the WWE would respond by airing comedic sketches featuring a parody of Ted Turner. The sketches made Turner out to be a bumbling buffoon hell-bent on trying to end the WWE by signing the "Huckster" and the "Nacho Man" who were obviously a play on Hogan and Savage. The terrible skits were unflattering toward the two former WWE mainstays, making them out to be old and washed up has-beens that didn't want to give up the spotlight.
Both Hogan and Savage were reportedly very upset by the portrayals, particularly Randy Savage who was so bitter from the hurtful skit that he never patched things up with Vince during his lifetime.
3 Roddy Piper Tears Into Vince Russo
Vince Russo is largely known as a creative writer for both the WWE and WCW at the peak of the Monday Night Wars. Russo had off the wall ideas that fit within the crazy shock TV era of the time but after that period wore off, Russo's philosophy became obsolete. Russo still had some value however, as TNA would swipe Russo up after the demise of WCW to be a part of the creative team. TNA at this time was trying to establish themselves as a legitimate alternative to WWE and would bring in big names to try to attract viewers. One of those big names would be Rowdy Roddy Piper.
Piper had requested some time on TNA programming to plug his new book, but instead, used the time to basically rip into Russo and his negative contributions to the world of professional wrestling. Piper reamed Russo, blaming him for the demise of WCW and even going so far as to blame him for the death of Owen Hart.
Russo would come out to the ring to take a lot of the verbal onslaught personally face to face and had no idea that Piper's gripes with him were legitimate. It was an ugly cringeworthy scene that has gone down as one of the most controversial moments in TNA's history.
1 WWE's Ultimate Warrior DVD
The Ultimate Warrior had burned all bridges with the WWE and the bitterness remained long after the Warrior hung up his boots for retirement. The Warrior was not interested in returning back to the company for any appearances and railed against the company for how they treated him and the direction the company was going during the attitude era.
Reportedly, after Ultimate Warrior declined to participate in a DVD retrospective of his career, the WWE decided rather than cancelling the documentary, they would go along and finish the project but take things in a new direction—one that didn't celebrate Warrior's career but eviscerated it.
The scathing documentary entitled "The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior" was basically a hit piece on the Warrior, tearing into his backstage demeanor, his demanding diva-like mentality and stomping all over his legacy. Various wrestlers and personalities would mock the Warrior, ridicule his in-ring prowess and made him out to look like a terrible human being. This would hurt the Warrior very much and he would take WWE to court for defamation.
However, this story ended up having a happy ending as Warrior and the WWE would patch things up and Warrior would be inducted into the WWE Half of Fame before his passing.
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