"You're only as strong as your weakest link." So goes the old adage...but how does it hold up when that weak link is at the top, and intentionally holding down the rest? There have been numerous locker room cancers throughout the history of professional wrestling. Some have lead through bad behavior, others have bullied and pushed around younger talent to protect their spot, and others have gone as far as murder to have their will enforced. Professional wrestling is the height of dramatic fiction, but behind the scenes, the power struggles were all too real. Power vacuums among bookers during lean periods have lead to the inmates running the asylum and calling the shots.
Wrestling has always been full of backstage politics. While the WWE has been able to weed out a lot of their cancers over the years, a few still remain. WCW was ravaged by them, as so many guys had creative control, which made doing business very difficult. When half your roster can never lose, the other half of the roster is ultimately going to be buried. Locker room morale was incredibly low in WCW which is why so many of the company's young stars bolted to the WWE the first chance they got, even though it meant taking less money for more work days. Sometimes one of the most important things in a job is having a good environment.
Today, we'll be examining them a bit closer; The Worst Locker Room Cancers in the History of Professional Wrestling.
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15 15. Randy Orton
Randy Orton was a very troubled young man early in his WWE career. Randy was often cocky and arrogant backstage which was only compounded due to the tremendous push he received early in his career. He was also one of Triple H's boys, which always bodes well for politics. Even then, Orton's attitude got so bad that shortly after winning the World Heavyweight Championship, Triple H won it from him, as many felt Orton's ego was getting out of control.
That's only the tip of the iceberg though, as allegations have surfaced against Orton regarding harassment of other wrestlers, including filling a rookie Diva's bag with various creams and throwing fireworks at a car with Maria, Umaga and Carlito inside.
14 Hulk Hogan
You don’t become the biggest star in the industry without stepping on some people to get to the top. He held McMahon wrapped around his little finger and used him for his own gains at every opportunity. He held onto the belt with an iron grip, refusing to put over others. When he finally relented and put over the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI, he made sure to still kick out at the last possible moment to avoid looking weak. At WrestleMania IX, he stole Bret Hart’s AND Yokozuna’s thunder, booking himself into a quick cheap finish that put the belt back on him.
In WCW, his constant politicking brought wrestling into a new age, and tore the company down with his refusal to help anyone but himself. He was still beloved among fans, until a 2015 controversy revealed him on tape making numerous racist remarks. He is still holding out for a virtual turn, but as of right now, we may have finally seen the end of Hulkamania, for good.
13 Scott Hall
Though he was always a bigger danger to himself than others, Scott Hall was nonetheless a bully backstage to those whom he considered beneath him. Upon meeting the Dudley Boyz, his first comment to them was complimenting the 3D, adding, "I can't wait to kick out of it." His bad behavior has been blamed for being a big factor in X-Pac's later drug abuse. As a member of both the NWO in WCW, and the Kliq in WWE, he was part of the ruling group that protected their own and held down others. His storied addiction could not have been very encouraging to the younger crew. When the man who wasn't even home for a scheduled live interview on Nitro is pushed to the top and you're wrestling Ciclope in the opener, what hope can you have to ever get ahead?
12 Triple H
It’s tricky for newer viewers to understand the hate of HHH. Today, he’s the godfather of NXT, the man who put over Daniel Bryan on the way to his WrestleMania moment, and the man who’ll carry the WWE into the future once Mr. McMahon rides into the sunset. But it wasn’t quite so long ago that he may have been the most hated man in the business.
Machiavelli would certainly approve of HHH’s career trajectory. The man understands backstage politics. In his early days, he cozied up to the Kliq, and go his first taste of power. After Hall and Nash moved on to WCW, and Shawn Michaels lost his smile and his spinal use for several years, HHH took advantage of the power vacuum with DX 2.0. The man seduced and married the daughter of the company owner in both kayfabe AND real-life JUST TO PROVE HE COULD (also, possibly love). He moved his way up to corporate ladder to become COO of the WWE. He had to step on many heads to get where he is, and took full advantage of his powers. His mid-2000s role as the top heel of the company has been colloquially termed a “reign of terror” where he continually pushed himself over up-and-comers and made himself the focal point of the company. He ruined the “Summer of Punk” by inserting himself into the story and pinning the new superstar clean. He even defeated a returning Brock Lesnar, who had to be cleansed of his losses via an excuse of diverticulitis to become the beast he is today.
Every major story arc, every stomped on up-and-comer, HHH had to get his filthy fingerprints all over everything to claim as his own ideas and successes.
11 Shawn Michaels
There’s quite a few legends on this list who’ve redeemed themselves (or in Hogan’s case, plunged deeper into infamy). But the most petulant and child-like of them is easily Shawn Michaels. During his mid-90s run, he knew McMahon needed him as one of his few stars keeping the company afloat, and Michaels threw his weight around wherever he could. The man was solely in business for himself and proved it at every turn. For a short list of examples;
-Refused to drop the belt to Bret Hart, feigned an injury, and gave his infamous speech about “losing his smile” in a pseudo retirement that lasted only a few months.
-Destroyed Vader’s big run as a monster heel by refusing to job and breaking character in the ring just to insult him.
-Had an affair with WWE diva Sunny and frequently threw it in the face of her sad-sack boyfriend, Chris Candido. Enough so that The Kliq had a running gag that they were trying to convince Candido to kill himself.
-Ruled WWE booking with an iron fist via The Kliq, refusing to do jobs and dictating the positions for his buddies.
-Refused to lose to Bret Hart AGAIN leading to the infamous Montreal Screwjob.
In Shawn’s defense, time later revealed the behavior to be strongly influenced by his addiction to painkillers. After taking a several year sabbatical and cleaning up his act, he returned to ring for one of the greatest second acts in the history of the business and reclaimed his legacy as on of the greatest of all time.
Who would’ve thought Justin Hawk Bradshaw would make such a name for himself? Like many on this list, he has since become a much beloved elder statesman of the industry, but his run in the 2000s have him branded as one of the greatest bullies of the era. During the Public Enemy’s first tryout match with the WWE, Bradshaw and Farooq as the Acolytes stiffed the living hell out of them in the ring, beating the team mercilessly, leading to a horrific match and the Public Enemy being sent home looking like chumps.
He personally boasts of making The Miz’s life a living hell during his first years, hazing him mercilessly, forcing him to dress in the hallway, and generally treating him like garbage. This was often the treatment for anyone he found weaker than himself, or more undeserving of their spots. During the brawl marking the end of 2005’s original ECW One Night Stand, he intentionally went after the Blue Meanie and beat him mercilessly off script.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending; one of his most infamous encounters as a bully was when he was picking on legendary ECW announcer, Joey Styles. It’s been said that one day, JBL was making a mockery of him in the locker room in front of “the boys”. Feeling he’d been put in a position to react, Styles rolled up his sleeves, marched up to the much larger JBL, and knocked him flat on his ass with a single punch.
He was one of the greatest talents of the Monday Night Wars, but backstage he was a pain in the ass. While all the stories haven’t been told, Chris Jericho has spoken with disapproval of his behavior at the time. When Jericho began building a feud with him, pinning an imposter Goldberg in the middle of Goldberg’s initial win streak, it seemed a great build that would draw money. But Goldberg took it all as a personal offense and, despite his newness in the business, considered himself “above” Jericho. The angle never truly paid off, as Goldberg finally speared Jericho on Nitro, only for the angle to fizzle out with no clear ending.
Jericho referred to this incident putting ego over business as one of the main reasons he jumped to WWE. Years later, the two would have a physical scrap in the WWE locker room that Jericho (surprisingly) won. Since then, they have mended fences.
8 Bill Watts (WCW era)
Bill Watts was legendary for his run in WCCW and the NWA territories. But when he was brought in as head booker to WCW in the mid 90s, he made it his goal to drag the company back to the 70s with his outdated ideas of the wrestling business. He instituted a rule that no wrestler could leave until the final bell of the final match (leading to drag strip style car-lineups at the exits every night). He forbade families from entering the locker room, robbing his wrestlers of the little bit of family time in a business notoriously damaging to families.
Worst of all, he sandbagged the burgeoning Cruiserweight Division by banning all moves off the top rope. Watts was hired to revitalize the company. If he were hired by a telephone company, what he did would be akin to reverting to carrier pigeons. He tried to yank the business back in time, kicking and screaming, to an era he felt most comfortable, destroying the morale of the locker room. Thankfully, his tenure was brief, and his reign of terror ended just in time for the first shots of the Monday Night Wars.
7 Scott Steiner
Scott Steiner was one of the few remaining stars in WCW’s dying days, and he used that fact to his full advantage. He was known to be incredibly violent and short-tempered backstage, keeping down the younger guys and acting out on live TV with little repercussion. This came to a head when he appeared on WCW television while in a program with Diamond Dallas Page and insulted Page’s wife live on the air. When he returned backstage, Page had a few words for him. Steiner violently reacted and two had to be pulled apart, with several saying that Steiner had attempted to claw out Page’s eyeballs. He was suspended with pay, and laughingly referred to it as a “paid vacation”.
6 Bill DeMott
I never would have thought WCW’s Hugh Morrus would be so hated…or even well known in the first place. As the head trainer for NXT, he drew the ire of many of his underlings. He encouraged them to work injured, made wrestlers debase themselves, and was said to be openly vindictive of certain talents. He was eventually outed by former NXT developmental wrestler Austin Matelson for various deeds, such as:
-Encouraging students to kill themselves, once several days after a former FCW star had committed suicide.
-Would over-train students into exhaustion and injury, only to tell them their injuries reflected negatively on their chances.
-Frequent homophobic slurs
-Held a personal vendetta against NXT star Enzo Amore, telling he “hopes he dies”, slapping him in the face, and intentionally drop him on his head and neck during exercise.
The accusations eventually became too much to ignore, and DeMott was released in 2015.
5 Ultimate Warrior
Known to believe in his character a bit too much, during his time at the top of the company, there were numerous complaints about him being too in his own head. After stiffing Andre the Giant in a match, Andre decided to stiff him back, leading to Warrior’s constant fear and delicate handling of him afterward. After Rick Rude complained of Warrior wrestling too stiff, Warrior responded with a rant that he couldn’t help himself, because he was the mighty warrior! He would not be talking down to, and…. Rick Rude laid him out with one punch… He was eventually fired from the company after holding McMahon at ransom before SummerSlam '91. Hours before his big match, he demanded a massive bonus before he’d set foot in the ring. McMahon relented, and immediately suspended him after.
The saddest story here comes from Bret Hart. He claimed in his autobiography he witnessed Warrior ignore a Make-A-Wish child, sick with cancer, and refuse to meet with the child, leaving him and his family sad and alone after waiting for hours in the hallway, while he ran to his car.
4 Vince McMahon
No one has more effect on locker room morale than the booker himself. The legend of the industry, Vince McMahon, has sometimes seemed to succeed in spite of himself. With his frequent forays into bad side deals (XFL, WBF), his stubborn refusal to change with the times, and his at time vindictive nature, it’s hard to believe this modern McMahon is the same world-beater that changed the sport forever. His famous “brass rings” comment in 2015 was probably seen as a way of motivating his talent.
After watching numerous brass rings be grabbed by Cesaro, Zack Ryder, and CM Punk among others lead to nothing more than punishment, it’s hard to take McMahon at his word. His treatment of talent that succeed despite him, that push against the status quo, has been upsetting to watch. This has lead to frequent declines of morale backstage, with his current suspension of Titus O’Neil being the latest example.
3 Kevin Dunn
You may not have heard the name, but no less an authority than Jim Cornette has referred to him as “the biggest enemy professional wrestling fans have”. He’s the main producer of all WWE products, and is said to be the 2nd in command right behind Vince McMahon. You can blame him for the following;
- The refusal to use the term “professional wrestling”, in lieu of “sports entertainment”.
-Using his influence to keep down those more inclined to the in-ring aspect over the sports-entertainment angle of the product. Specific names include; Cesaro, Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose, and Daniel Bryan.
- Allegedly was involved in the frequent mockery of Jim Ross, including mocking his disability from Bell’s palsy, the cause of his drooping face.
-According to former headwaiter Alex Greenfield, discerned that the main thing holding back WWE Diva Kelly Kelly’s character was that she “needs to find some tits”.
On the plus side, it’s been said that HHH and Stephanie McMahon have a personal venom for the man, and will be shown the door the day Vince hands over the reigns.
2 Paul Heyman
What is cancer? Cancer overtakes the body by changing the DNA of the cells. Instead of the usual cycle of growth, death, and regeneration, the cancer convinces the DNA to continually reproduce, even to its own detriment, until its growth is so fast, the cells themselves destroy everything around them and die.
Paul Heyman, though he was beloved, motivated his wrestlers to perform dangerous acts for low pay. They bled for nickels to help his company grow. He believed his product would one day overtake the industry, as his company hemorrhaged more and more cash. Every new business deal, every new TV contract, put more pressure on the company to expand, but it simply did not have the infrastructure to support itself. Heyman knew this, but still pushed for ECW’s expansion with every bit of strength he had. In the end, it resulted in bounced checks to the wrestlers and back room business deal with the WWE for talent. When the final bell tolled, the company went under, and Heyman scampered off the sinking boat to the WWE.
He’s one of the most respected bookers in wrestling history, who revolutionized the way stories are told and actions occur in the wrestling ring. But as a businessman, you could not find a more apt fit for a “cancer” than Heyman.
1 Jose Gonzalez
Typical locker room squabbles tend to involve burying, bullying, or intimidating a co-worker. But Gonzalez chose to more resemble an actual cancer, by literally killing his target. One of the head bookers of the World Wrestling Council in Puerto Rico, Gonzalez had major beef with the legendary brawler, Bruiser Brody. One day, as the locker room was preparing for a show, Gonzales requested Brody to accompany him into the shower to talk. There, he stabbed Brody several times. While he waited for an ambulance, he bled to death. Due to several mitigating circumstances (wrestlers afraid of testifying, Gonzalez’s reputation in the country, and Brody’s status as a mainland American in the small island territory), Gonzalez was acquitted and the killing declared “self-defense”.
The WWC suffered tremendously as a result, as many wrestlers loyal to Brody and disgusted at his murder, refused to work for the company. It goes to show that, as bad as many of these locker room troubles can be, most “buryings” don’t involve a literal burial.
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