Vince McMahon is the greatest professional wrestling promoter of all time. That is a statement that is backed up by a mountain of evidence; a lengthy list of accomplishments he can claim that nobody else can. He has singlehandedly shaped the industry in his image. How many businessmen/entertainers/moguls can say that about their line of work? Vince is far from perfect, but generally speaking, the man must know what he’s doing, so maybe it’s best to give him the benefit of the doubt on most of his decisions. On the other hand…
Look, pro wrestling is weird. Really weird. Any way you look at it, it’s weird. A pro wrestler is some combination of an athlete and an actor. In sport, we accept that coaches and managers have rules for their players that most human beings only encounter on seventh grade school trips. Rules about when and what they can eat and when they can go to bed. Pro wrestlers have similar rules. Their conduct is policed (can’t swear on television), they must adhere to a punishing travel schedule, and there is a drug policy, too. But can you imagine Lorne Michael chewing out Leslie Jones because she said “hospital” on SNL instead of “medical facility”?
But yes, Vince does have to lay down the law sometimes. And sometimes he gets it right. And sometimes...he doesn’t. For all his accomplishments, Vince McMahon is a pretty strange person and he has some strange rules. The result is that sometimes wrestlers get punished for ridiculous reasons.
15 Triple H for the Curtain Call
“The Curtain Call” was an event that occurred in the spring of 1996. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were finishing up with the WWE and heading to WCW. After their last show for the WWE in Madison Square Garden, Nash, Hall, Shawn Michaels, and Triple H (a backstage group collectively known as “The Kliq”) all hugged in the ring in an emotional send off. Hall and Michaels were portraying babyfaces at the time and Nash and Hunter were heels; so they broke character. While Vince did have grounds for being upset, you might think he’d understand just this once, but he didn’t.
What’s worse is that, because two of the four offending parties were leaving his company and a third, Michaels, was his champion, Vince could only really punish one guy: Hunter. Triple H had been scheduled to win the King of the Ring that year, but that was taken away from him and given to some guy named Steve Austin. For anybody reading this who hasn’t watched any wrestling in 20 years, don’t worry about Hunter. Things worked out alright for him.
14 Fining Highlander Robbie for Appearing in the Crowd on Impact
The Highlanders were a mildly amusing Scottish tag team that wrestled in WWE from 2006 to 2008. Mostly used for comedy, The Highlanders didn’t pull up any trees but they played their parts well. That all changed on March 27, 2008, when Highlander Robbie was shown on TNA television as a member of their audience for an episode of Impact. The announcers called attention to this and he was even keyed on TNA television (as his real name, Russell Murray). Reportedly, this led to a WWE official to call him and order him to leave immediately, which he did.
Nevertheless, Robbie was fined $5,000 (ostensibly the number that was to be his WrestleMania paycheque). Just a few months later, both Robbie and Rory were released from WWE. Just for going to see another wrestling show. A little harsh, isn’t it?
13 Ricky Steamboat for Asking for Time Off
Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat’s match against ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage for the Intercontinental Title at WrestleMania III was one of the greatest WWE matches of all time. Yet despite this match’s greatness, Steamboat only held the IC title for a few months. Steamboat asked for time off to be with his newborn child. But Vince wanted an IC champ who could tour, so he took the title off of him and (apparently quite randomly) booked the Honky Tonk Man to win it. Fair enough.
The weird part is that Vince seemed to always hold this against Steamboat. ‘The Dragon’ never again received a push in the WWE. When he came back, he was treated poorly. Steamboat lost in the first round of the WWE Championship tournament at WrestleMania IV (even though a win would have set up an awesome rematch with Savage). Steamboat then left for the NWA/WCW where he won the NWA World title.
Yet when he returned to the WWE again, he still seemed to be in Vince’s doghouse because he was referred to only as ‘The Dragon’ and was, apparently, meant to be an actual, literal dragon.
12 Firing Alberto del Rio for Slapping Somebody Backstage
Okay, so, you can’t go around slapping people. That is, technically, assault, and probably grounds for dismissal from most jobs. In August 2014, Alberto Del Rio was fired for “unprofessional conduct and an altercation with an employee”. That employee was the WWE’s then social media manager, Cody Barbierri. ADR slapped Barbierri after the latter made an allegedly racist joke at Del Rio’s expense (implying it was Del Rio’s job to take away some dishes, presumably because many Mexicans work in the service industry). So Del Rio slapped him. Is it wrong to slap somebody? Yes. Is it completely understandable when that somebody is a racist jerk? Yes. Nevertheless, Del Rio got fired and Barbierri got to keep his job.
The WWE may have been looking to cut some wrestlers at that time anyway and they may have been fearing legal action from Barbierri. Even so, it definitely seems unfair.
11 Not Pushing John Morrison
In his autobiography Batista Unleashed, Dave Bautista revealed that he had had a sexual relationship with then WWE female wrestler Melina Perez. The trouble is that during that time, Melina was dating another WWE wrestler: John Hennigan. Hennigan, who has gone by the names of Johnny Nitro, John Morrison, and now Johnny Mundo, is an incredibly athletic and good-looking wrestler, so even though he didn’t exude a great deal of personality during his time in the WWE, he had a lot of attributes that you’d think would make Vince want to push him.
However, Vince McMahon apparently lost respect and/or faith in Morrison when he didn’t attempt to fight or attack Batista in some manner. According to Vince’s way of thinking, if a man sleeps with your woman, you have to fight him. Never mind that Batista is twice Morrison’s size and had more pull in the company than Morrison did. Oh, and also never mind that responsible adults don’t settle their disputes with violence. Nevertheless, that was apparently one of the reasons Vince never pushed Morrison any harder than he did. And, need we point out, that Morrison’s behavior here was the exact opposite of Del Rio’s in the previous case and yet still both were punished?
10 Firing the Hebners for Selling Unauthorized Merchandise
Dave and Earl Hebner were fixtures in the WWE for decades. The identical twins had been a part of some of the WWE’s most famous matches as referees, with Earl becoming the senior official and Dave working behind the scenes later in his career. The two were also involved in storylines, such as the “evil twin” angle that introduced Earl and Earl’s later feud with the McMahon-Helmsley Faction. None of this seemed to matter come 2005, however, when both were released for selling unauthorized merchandise. The merchandise in question came from a store in St. Louis of which Earl was part owner and Dave was connected to, as well.
It’s still unclear how guilty (if it all) the Hebners were. It seems like a weird reason to fire two (otherwise) loyal employees. It appears that there is bad blood to this day as both Hebners are part of a class action lawsuit against the WWE.
9 Punishing Mark Henry for his Contract
Being tricked into sex with a transvestite (or was it a trans-person? Sandy was never clear on how she self-identified), falling in love the septuagenarian Mae Young (who subsequently birthed a hand), and being sent down to Ohio Valley Wrestling (the WWE’s then feeder system) were just a few of the “punishments” doled out to Mark Henry. What did Henry do that was so egregious? He signed a contract. On the back of a highly successful power-lifting career (including a trip to the 1996 Olympics) the 24-year-old Henry was signed to a big (and long) contract.
Fast forward a couple of years and Vince had predictably lost interest. Thus, any wacky idea Vince and his writers had, they threw at Henry. It’s unclear if they were deliberately trying to get Henry to quit or if they just didn’t care, but ‘The World's Strongest Man’ took everything Vince threw at him. When Henry’s contract finally came due, wouldn’t you know, Vince was low on wrestlers and had to re-sign Henry. Good thing, too, or we would have never got to see that salmon jacket.
8 Releasing Jim Ross After the Disastrous 2k Panel
Jim Ross’s entire WWE tenure could be on this list. Just what Vince had against ‘Good Ol’ JR’ is unclear. Was Vince always jealous that Ross was a better announcer than he was? Was it some ingrained distaste for southerners? (Vince was born in North Carolina, remember.) Whatever it was, Vince has repeatedly treated JR shabbily on and off screen, and that trend continued right up until JR’s final release from the WWE. On August 16, 2013, 2K Sports held a panel to promote their upcoming WWE 2K14 video game. The panel was a mess, mostly due to Ric Flair’s erratic behavior. Some have speculated Flair may have been inebriated. (It should be noted that this was mere months after the death of Flair’s son, Reid).
Ross couldn’t control the panel and got frustrated. He said he was fatigued from his Bell’s Palsy. Nevertheless, he was released from the WWE shortly thereafter. It’s actually unclear whose decision that was, but given his track record, Vince doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt here.
7 Firing Daniel Bryan for "Choking" Justin Roberts
The debut of The Nexus group is one of the few angles in recent wrestling history that has received near unanimous praise. On June 7, 2010, the competitors on the first season of NXT debuted on RAW, attacking John Cena and everybody in and around the ring. As part of this melee, Daniel Bryan (kayfabe) strangled ring announcer Justin Roberts with his own tie. Vince and the WWE have been sensitive about simulated choking and strangulation since the Chris Benoit incident, though others have done it and escaped punishment. Daniel Bryan was not so lucky (Daniel Bryan is never so lucky).
The WWE fired him for this, though Bryan has said they apologized to him when doing so, saying “had sponsors to deal with”. Nevertheless, things worked out for Bryan as he was rehired just a few months later.
6 Ric Flair for Blading at WrestleMania VIII
In 1992, the WWE had a strict ‘no blood’ policy. This meant that wrestlers were not allowed to blade; to deliberately cut their foreheads with a razor blade to add drama to a match. Nonetheless, this is exactly what Ric Flair did in his WWE title defense against Randy Savage at WrestleMania VIII. Flair was fined “several thousand dollars” for this. Sounds fair enough, right? There was a rule, Flair broke it, got punished. What’s the issue? The issue is that on the very same card, Bret Hart also bladed in his Intercontinental Title match against Roddy Piper and he didn’t get punished. The difference? When questioned, Flair admitted to blading whereas Hart denied it (despite it being fairly obvious what had happened).
Is it any wonder Flair left the WWE after less than 18 months? This event set something of a precedent for Hart who would go on to disobey the ‘no blading rule’ at an In Your House event in December 1995 and at WrestleMania 13, where he bladed Steve Austin. To add salt to the wound, Hart criticized Flair’s blade jobs in his autobiography as lacking subtlety.
5 Titus O'Neil for Grabbing Vince’s Arm
This is a weird one. Titus O’Neil is a big, muscular ex-football player, who gets press for being a good father and a moral man, and who has some charisma (though he often stumbles when trying to remember lines). To sum up, he has most of the qualities Vince likes in a wrestler, yet Titus has never received a big push. And 2016 was the worst year yet for him. Why? Because he grabbed Vince’s arm. After being forced to retire due to head injuries, Daniel Bryan bade an emotional farewell in February 2016. All the wrestlers came out and applauded Bryan. As they went to exit, Titus grabbed Vince’s arm to playfully instruct him to allow Stephanie to pass first.
Vince, looking every bit of his 70 years, appeared to be positively shocked and outraged at this. Yes, it was an inopportune time for a lighthearted joke and the big Titus probably grabbed Vince too hard, but the subsequent 60-day suspension (which caused him to miss WrestleMania) seemed really harsh. In fact, Vince wanted to fire Titus, but Triple H talked him down to a suspension. What’s more, Titus has been nothing but a joke character since his return.
4 Chris Jericho for Not Being Able to Work
Chris Jericho is one of the best in-ring workers around, has been with the WWE on-and-off for almost 20 years, and his debut is one of the best remembered in WWE history. Given that, it’s shocking to hear that Vince nearly fired Jericho just months into his WWE tenure. Jericho discusses this difficult time in his first autobiography. The boiling point came during Jericho’s feud with Chyna. Wrestling a woman is an unenviable task because lots can go wrong, especially with a limited worker like Chyna. But Jericho was told to make it look good and he ended up hitting Chyna with too-stiff-a-punch.
This caused Vince to go ballistic on Jericho. Vince said Jericho’s contract wasn’t worth the paper on which it was printed. Vince told him to work with X-Pac because if he couldn’t have a good match with X-Pac, he couldn’t have a good match with anybody. Jericho did have a good match with X-Pac but it took months to get into Vince’s good graces and years before Jericho felt that Vince really respected him.
3 Releasing Jim Ross After his Bell's Palsy Attack
This one goes from ridiculous to downright immoral. We’ve seen before how Vince has a track record of treating Jim Ross poorly, but this takes the cake. In January of 1994, JR suffered Bell’s Palsy for the first time. Bell’s Palsy is a paralysis of the muscles on one side of your face, which is why JR’s face is asymmetrical. Ross had to take time off to recuperate and to relearn how to announce with one side of his face slightly drooping. Now, Vince didn’t fire Ross for this, but he did choose not to renew his contract.
What’s worse is that McMahon made JR drive in the snow, while still ill, to meet him so he could tell him he was letting him go. If Vince truly felt he didn’t want Ross anymore (a stupid decision in itself) he could have at least offered Ross a short-term contract while he was getting healthy. Instead, Vince saw it as an opportunity to get rid of one of the best announcers of all time.
2 Fining Batista $100 Grand for Blading as well as Jericho and Dean Malenko
This is less a case of being punished for a ridiculous reason and more of a ridiculous punishment. We’ve seen before how blading during a ‘no-blood era’ can get you a fine. But a fine of $100,000?! That’s what Batista got for pulling out a razor blade in a cage match against Chris Jericho for the World Heavyweight Championship in 2008. Batista thought Vince was joking at first, but became angry and disillusioned when he realized he wasn’t. Apart from the financial implication, Batista felt betrayed that Vince would fine him so punitively for doing something Batista truly thought was in the best interest of the match.
What’s worse is that Vince also fined Jericho and the ‘road agent’ who worked with them on the match, Dean Malenko, $5,000 each. This despite the fact that ‘The Animal’ acted alone. Batista did the stand-up thing and paid their fines for them, but when his contract came up in 2010, Batista was done with the WWE, partly because of this fiasco.
1 Firing Dawn Marie for Getting Pregnant
Again, this punishment goes beyond ridiculous, and even beyond immoral, as it was quite possibly illegal. There are plenty of reasons to release Dawn Marie. She can’t wrestle, her acting is poor, and all the angles she’s ever been in have been trashy. But for becoming pregnant? No, that’s not cool. Dawn Marie was released in 2005 while she was on maternity leave. Marie didn’t have a poor disciplinary or attendance record and still had about a year left on her contract. She filed a wrongful dismissal suit against the WWE in 2006 and the two parties came to a settlement in 2007.
Sadly, this isn’t the last time the WWE would do something like this, as they released Kharma years later after her pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage (though that case was a little more complex). Yes Vince, the WWE is, in many ways, your own personal kingdom, but you can’t go around firing women on maternity leave.