If there is one thing that we’ve learned from the world of WWE, it’s that you don’t cross the boss. Vince McMahon is the first and final word on all things WWE-related and, given that WWE is currently firmly entrenched as the major leagues of the professional wrestling world, that means that any wrestler who hopes to have a promising career in this industry would do well to remember the many horror stories that former giants of the industry have to share about that time that they defied the McMahon empire. There are few wrestlers in history that have ever been able to beat the boss in the long run.
Occasionally, though, a wrestler does appear who not only manages to defy McMahon but find themselves completely outside of his control. A performer may occasionally get the best of McMahon in a single argument or discussion, but these stars established a legacy as true wild cards whose careers were dictated on their own terms as opposed to the orders of the big boss. They are the ones who treated the WWE locker room as their own personal playground, and the 15 wrestlers that McMahon had no control over.
15 Chris Jericho
Although mild-mannered professional wrestler/rock star Chris Jericho isn’t typically associated with rebelling against the McMahon empire, Jericho’s books are filled with stories of him standing up to the boss and winning. Perhaps the most impressive instance of his defiance comes after Jericho received his bonus paycheck following his match with Triple H at WrestleMania X-8. Jericho felt that he had been grossly shortchanged for his efforts and confirmed his suspicions when Triple H told him how much he had earned for the same match. Outraged, Jericho confronted JR and Vince McMahon over the issue face-to-face. Before Jericho was even done speaking, Vince had a new (much more lucrative) cut a check for him on the spot.
Jericho has since always been pretty comfortable in telling Vince McMahon whenever he had a problem with something. At this point in his career, Jericho can pretty much come and go as he pleases.
Bill Goldberg never needed Vince McMahon to become a household name in the world of professional wrestling. For that matter, Bill Goldberg probably would have become a big name somewhere outside the world of professional wrestling given enough time. This, combined with the fact that Goldberg didn’t immediately jump ship to WWE following WCW’s collapse, made him a dangerous commodity in the eyes of Vince McMahon. Goldberg waltzed into the WWE on his own terms with a huge guaranteed contract, worked the matches he wanted to work and left when he was ready to leave. Few other wrestlers have ever been able to enjoy such control as Goldberg did.
Goldberg signed a one-year contract with the company and his run was lackluster to say the least. It'd be interesting to see what the WWE could do with Goldberg if he comes back for one more match, as has long been the rumor.
13 Jake The Snake Roberts
Jake was always a guy who liked to march to the beat of his own drum so to speak, but it was an incident shortly before WrestleMania VIII that sealed Jake’s reputation as a loose cannon. Around this time, Jake wanted to transition to a backstage role as he felt that he was wearing down a bit physically. Vince considered the offer, but declined it at the time due to him not really having any open positions in the current regime.
When Vince also declined Jake’s request for a release, Jake took the matter into his own hands by demanding a release shortly before he took to the ring for his WrestleMania VIII match with The Undertaker under the condition that Jake would not work the match if it wasn't granted. Needless to say, Vince complied. Never one to let his talent get one over on him, Roberts was out of the WWE later that year. Roberts for his part, has since praised McMahon. "Brilliant, brilliant. The hardest working motherf----r I know. Like him or not, it doesn't matter, he's the hardest working son of a b---h I know."
12 Jeff Jarrett
For the most part, Jeff Jarrett made his way into and through his WWE career without any real incident. In fact, he always seemed like a company guy that was just trying to make his way through the organization as best as he could. However, Jarrett sealed his legacy as a wildcard when he refused to drop the intercontinental championship to Chyna prior to his move to WCW unless WWE paid him a six-figure ransom. Jarrett even threatened to show up on WCW television with the belt around his waist. Since that moment, Jarrett has been in active rebellion against Vince McMahon and WWE.
Following WWE's purchase of its rival WCW, Jarrett was one of the talents that was eligible to come over to WWE, but Vince saw it as a chance for revenge on Jarrett. He fired him on-screen after announcing that he had bought his competition.
11 Harley Race
Harley Race came from a different era and different organization than the one that Vince McMahon helped to create. It’s natural, then, to expect that the two might have some different philosophies regarding the business and Race’s role in it. Still, the full extent of their differences is quite shocking to hear years later. In fact, Race was once offered a large amount of money by Vince McMahon to come to WWE during the early ‘80s. When reflecting back on why he didn't go to WWE then, Race said this: "I wasn’t going to get involved with Vince until I was through with the NWA side. That’s what I wanted to do, and that’s what I did.”
Race declined the offer and Vince became livid. So livid, in fact, that Race had to subdue Vince to the ground after Vince started to become hostile towards him.
As the story goes, Race had to be talked out of inflicting further damage on McMahon by his wife. He and Vince always had a contested relationship after that.
10 Kevin Nash
Kevin Nash may not have come into WWE as a household name, but the big man quickly used his particular charms and imposing size to put himself in a powerful political position within the company. As a member of WWE during his prime, Nash and his friends ran the show. They dominated the main event scene and were able to treat the WWE Championship as something of a personal trophy.
When Nash decided it was time to make insane amounts of money that WWE could never offer, he jumped ship on his own terms and became one of the competition’s greatest assets. He had promised Vince that he was going to stay on board, but defected once he saw the money WCW was offering him.
He was a guy who always looked out for himself and knew how to get exactly what he wanted. Even today, Nash’s friendship with Triple H allows him to come and work as he pleases.
9 The Ultimate Warrior
When The Ultimate Warrior was put in a main event position in the late ‘80s, Jim Hellwig felt like he was on top of the world. So much so, in fact, that the man began to develop a reputation as something of a rogue element. Hellwig was known to throw his political weight around when he was able to and often conflicted with Vince when Vince’s decisions contradicted his ride to the top.
Even fellow wrestlers have stories of needing to rough up Warrior in the ring to get him in line. It escalated to a point where The Ultimate Warrior left WWE for WCW after he and Vince failed to come to terms over merchandising rights. Warrior left on his own terms then and didn’t come back until Vince dropped his hostilities against him. Unfortunately, Warrior would pass away just days after his Hall of Fame induction, but at least he made peace with the company beforehand.
Few wrestlers in history have ever risen to the heights that Sable enjoyed in such short time. It can be hard to remember, but Sable was indeed one of the WWE’s most popular acts for a brief period in the Attitude Era. Though it may not have lasted long, Sable knew exactly how popular she was and wasn’t against making sure she always got her way. Jim Cornette has often been very critical of Sable and said that Sable had Vince and some creative writers wrapped around her finger.
Things really heated up between Sable and McMahon when Sable received a generous settlement as part of her sexual harassment lawsuit against WWE in 1999. A few years later, Sable negotiated her way into a WWE return and began a relationship with Brock Lesnar whose own political pull ensures her ability to continue doing things her way.
7 Bret Hart
Bret Hart is an odd example of an uncontrollable wrestler. Actually, for the most part, he was a pretty loyal guy. Still, it’s impossible to deny that a dissension developed between Bret and Vince regarding their views on the future of the company and wrestling in general. Around that time, Bret became a notorious rebel who constantly conflicted with Vince over what was expected of Hart creatively. Hart typically won the argument but, even when he didn’t, he still found a way to get the final word. When Hart had an offer to leave for WCW, Vince came to Bret with a 20-year contract that would see him have a lifetime job with the WWE.
The most infamous example of Bret getting the last word would be his physical altercation with Vince following the Montreal Screwjob. That was the moment where the wrestling world suddenly became aware that quiet Bret Hart had limits that even Vince McMahon was not allowed to cross.
6 Stone Cold Steve Austin
On screen, Stone Cold Steve Austin presented himself as Vince McMahon’s greatest enemy. While their behind the scenes relationship was much more friendly, there was certainly plenty of animosity between the two. Austin was certainly a loyal worker, but he also wasn’t fond of following some of the little rules that Vince McMahon laid down regarding things like dress codes and personal conduct. He was the WWE’s biggest ever earner, and he wasn’t afraid to see what he could get away with.
Of course, Austin’s most infamous moment of independence came when he refused to lose to Brock Lesnar on an episode of Monday Night Raw, as he felt that the match deserved to headline a PPV. Vince disagreed, and Stone Cold packed his bags and went home the night of the show. Many times, Vince didn't really have a choice, as Austin was the no.1 reason his company was able to win the war against WCW.
5 Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar was touted as something special from the moment he walked into WWE, which may go a long way to explaining how The Beast got it into his head that he could do as he pleased. Brock toed the line for much of his early career, but when the man decided that it was time to pursue other career options in 2004, he pursued them with barely a look back at Vince McMahon.
Lesnar’s considerable accomplishments outside of WWE allowed him to write his own ticket back into the company and forced Vince McMahon to put his name to one of the biggest performer friendly contracts that WWE has ever offered. And Lesnar's control hasn't stopped. When would McMahon ever let any of his talents do something as much as Lesnar fighting in the UFC...while under contract? Lesnar pretty much has carte blanche in his current WWE run and Vince will keep coming back for more.
4 Shawn Michaels
At a time when WWE was dying slowly, the fate of the company was arguably put onto the shoulders of Shawn Michaels. Shawn rose to the occasion as best as he could by putting on unbelievable matches night after night, but he also used the opportunity to create one of the most powerful political factions in wrestling history.
Put simply, The Kliq ran the show in WWE for much of the mid-90s and Shawn was their undisputed leader. Even the early DX material was largely done against the consent of what McMahon was trying to do with the company at the time. It was practically a weekly occurrence where Vince would scream at Shawn over something he'd done, only to eventually give in and let HBK do something ridiculous the very next week.
Shawn eventually settled in a bit later in his career but was truly uncontrollable for a few years.
3 CM Punk
We’ll never quite know the truth regarding whether or not CM Punk really held out for a last minute mega contract following his epic unscripted pipe bomb promo on that infamous episode of Monday Night Raw. Even if it that didn’t quite result in a down to the wire negotiation, Punk’s WWE career is that of a true McMahon rebel. Punk’s rise to the top of WWE on his own terms and often against the express wishes and ideas that Vince McMahon presented him.
Vince never seemed to really “get” CM Punk, so Punk decided to dictate his entire WWE career on his own terms. Even when CM Punk's personal ideas were shot down or canceled, he usually did what he felt like even when he was working a sub-optimal story.
To be honest, Punk seems like the kind of guy no one could have control over and we'll see how his run with the UFC goes when he eventually has his first fight.
2 Jesse Ventura
Jesse Ventura always did things a little differently. He dressed differently, he wrestled differently and he basically created the template of a truly great heel announcer when such as thing was even considered. When it comes to his interactions with Vince McMahon, Ventura also enjoys a reputation for behaving outside the realm of normalcy. Vince tried to stop Jesse Ventura from acting in the movie Predator, and Jesse Ventura did it anyway.
Vince tried to keep Jesse out of WWE, but NBC’s insistence that Jesse be the voice of Saturday Night’s Main Event forced him to allow him back into the company. Jesse even became one of the few wrestlers to win a lawsuit against McMahon over royalty rights, which you have to believe really irks the boss to this day.
Ventura hasn't had much of a relationship with WWE in recent years, but he did make an appearance on a retro RAW episode and did commentary alongside McMahon once again.
1 Hulk Hogan
Many of the wrestlers on this list are famous for using their popularity as leverage against Vince McMahon in order to ensure they didn’t have to follow every one of his orders. So far as that goes, there is no greater example of this effect than Hulk Hogan. Hogan ruled the wrestling world throughout much of the ‘80s, and you had better believe that he knew just how much pull he had. Hogan took the outside jobs that he wanted, worked the matches he wanted and lost when he wanted.
When that was no longer the case, Hogan took his ball to WCW and helped them to almost sink the WWE. Needless to say, Vince always had to respect Hogan’s drawing power even when it deprived him of his fabled power.
The two have had ups and downs in their relationship, but somehow they always find a way to come together again.