In the cutthroat and political world of professional wrestling, it’s hard to find a former WWE wrestler who doesn’t have some kind of story about feeling screwed over by the company. Guys like Dolph Ziggler have even worked it into part of their character's story. Fans know that despite all of the lip-service WWE pays to the fans having the final say in everything, we don’t. If we did, Kane and Big Show would have retired while CM Punk would be well into his 5th reign as world champion. It’s a fact of life; people just get screwed over and it’s no different in the WWE.
Let’s define what "screwed over" means for the sake of this list. Roman Reigns or Eva Marie getting suspended for violations of the Wellness Policy is not the company screwing a talent over. That’s the talent screwing themselves over. We’re also not considering people who simply have a case of sour grapes. Watch any “shoot” interview on YouTube and you’ll find dozens of wrestlers who love to tell stories about how they should have been the biggest star in the WWE if it weren’t for Vince McMahon screwing them. In most cases, they are way off the mark and should be nothing but grateful for even achieving mid-card status. No, these people were not screwed, they just don’t want to admit they weren’t Hulk Hogan or John Cena.
To make this group, a wrestler could be someone who worked hard, did the best with whatever gimmick or story was given to them, and when they ended up falling short, they paid the price. Or, they could be somebody who got caught up within the politics of the WWE, forgetting that Vince McMahon is judge, jury and executioner. Some of the people on this list are WWE Hall of Famers. It doesn’t mean everything went well in their career. In some ways, an induction seems like an apology from McMahon.
The optimist would say it’s better to have been a player and get screwed than to have never been a player at all. We’re not sure everybody on this list of the top 15 wrestlers screwed over by the WWE would agree.
15 The Ultimate Warrior
This is a case of people who are hard to work with and work for trying to come together and see if things can work. In the case of The Ultimate Warrior, who was as headstrong a person as there’s ever been in wrestling, the WWE gave the guy a lot of rope to hang himself, and well, he did. Vince McMahon saw him as the heir to the throne of Hulk Hogan and defeated Hogan in the first ever World Title vs. Intercontinental Title match at a WrestleMania. Things quickly fell apart after that. He thought since he was the new Hulk Hogan, he should be making Hulk Hogan money. Unfortunately, he didn’t pack the seats like Hulk Hogan since wrestling was sliding in popularity at the time. Things got testy and then The Warrior left. Then he came back. Then he left again. Then he came back. Then he left again. It got so bad that the WWE waged the worst smear campaign against a wrestler as they’ve ever done in their history. They’ve tried to backtrack over time, but they spent years trying to screw the guy over, most notably creating a documentary called The Self-Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior to try and undermine his legacy.
14 Bret Hart
If it’s called The Montreal Screwjob, you know somebody got screwed just based on context clues and that guy was Bret Hart. It’s taken years for all of the details to come out, but essentially Vince McMahon promised Hart he could leave the WWE on his own terms storyline-wise but then screwed him over on a live pay-per-view. It didn’t go much better for Bret in WCW. They tried to make him a hero, then tried to make him a heel but neither really caught on, so one of the greatest wrestlers of all time got screwed over by having a writing team that couldn’t think of anything creative for him. It all ended with a poorly placed kick from Goldberg to The Excellence of Execution’s head, leading to a concussion that forced him out of wrestling. It started in Montreal, but from that point forward, the rest of Hart’s career was a screwjob.
13 Triple H
It’s hard to imagine the Chief Operating Officer of WWE ever getting screwed over by the company he married into, but that was exactly the case not long after he debuted, quickly becoming immersed in the politics of The Kliq. When Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall and Kevin “Diesel” Nash wrestled their last match for WWE in Madison Square Garden. Following the Shawn Michaels/Diesel house show main event, Hall came down to the ring with Triple H and the three hugged and threw their Kliq hand gesture into the air. It became known as “The Curtain Call” and it screwed over Triple H’s career. For this major break of character when kayfabe still meant something, Vince McMahon needed someone to punish. Hall and Nash left. Michaels was the champion. He took it out on Triple H, burying him to the mid-card and scrapping plans for him to win the King of the Ring. He did capture it a year later, but spent far too many months in a stalled position in his career because Vince McMahon decided to screw with him to make a point.
12 Darren Young
WWE has never done well with political angles, and for some reason, they’re always putting Bob Backlund in the center of them. The bomb for this decade has been the “Make Darren Young Great Again,” a play on Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again.” We think Darren Young got screwed because he never should have been placed with Bob Backlund. A manager’s job is to enhance their talent, to take attention away from it. Young also got screwed because saying that you need to make him great again is saying, “He was great once, but he is no longer great. Now we have to work to make him not great.” The premise of an angle should not be that a guy sucks and things need to change. Finally, as have so many been screwed before him and will be screwed into the distant future, Darren Young was put into a situation that had no storyline. There was a beginning, but no middle, nor end. Those are three mighty strikes and they signal Darren Young is out.
11 Owen Hart
Obviously forcing Owen Hart to descend to the floor on a harness when he had doubts was beyond being screwed. It was a tragic accident, so we’ll skip that part of the bad treatment he had through the years. Instead, we’ll focus on who got screwed over the most after Bret Hart for the Montreal Screwjob. If you’ve seen the footage, you know that Jim Neidhart, The British Bulldog and Owen Hart were all in the ring following Vince McMahon’s betrayal. The quartet was a new version of The Hart Foundation. Within a few days of Bret leaving WWE, both The British Bulldog and Jim Neidhart were allowed to be released from their contracts, but Owen was extended no such courtesy. He was stuck in the company that royally screwed his brother over. Instead of flirting with the main event, as he had shortly before Montreal, he was sent down the card with the Blue Blazer gimmick perhaps being a bigger screwjob than Bret ever got.
10 Jerry Lawler
The WWE is going to distance themselves from you with a 10-foot pole if you get in trouble with the law. If it happens to be alleged domestic violence or an alleged sex crime, that pole extends to 50-feet and the only thing worse is if you’re a murderer. Jerry Lawler, likely because he puts himself into bad situations, has been on the receiving end of a few calls to the police. In the ’90s, he was pulled off Raw for months when an underage girl accused him of inappropriate contact. In the last year, he was accused of domestic violence against his girlfriend. This led to him being pulled off Raw, but after the brand split, it’s clear he’s never going back. Nothing ever came of those charges. They use him on pay-per-view pre-shows, but we’re guessing it’s only because they have to pay him either way. Regardless of what you think about his commentary work, Lawler has been screwed around with by the WWE in situations that turned out to not be his fault.
9 Barry Horowitz
It’s an interesting thing when a couple of wins can actually screw over your career. Horowitz was a lot like a James Ellsworth back in the day. He was a lovable guy who you just knew was going to lose prior to the Monday Night Raw years. If Horowitz was in the match, he was going down. Then, one day, he rolled up Chris Candid, known as Bodydonna Skip at the time, and scored a victory. It was the biggest upset of the year and was such a big deal, within a few weeks Horowitz was given a PPV match against Candido and his own T-shirt. After this short feud came to an end, that was it for Horowitz. He went back to losing his matches, but unlike before, he wasn’t a lovable loser. He was just a loser because WWE booked him to possibly have a chance. Horowitz probably would have been able to stay with the company longer if that hadn’t had him win a few matches. Even when you think they’re helping someone, the WWE can inadvertently be screwing them over.
8 The Undertaker
The Streak. OK, we can move on. Seriously though, more important than any title reign dating back to Hulk Hogan’s first in the WWE back in the mid-1980s, The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania was the kind of thing built over two decades that took on the weight of the world. There are literally people who have had grandchildren from Undertaker’s first win to first loss at WrestleMania. When Vince McMahon was on the Stone Cold Podcast on WWE Network, Austin asked him about why The Streak ended and McMahon said he thought it was time and he told The Undertaker he had to lay down for Brock Lesnar. For what the real-life Mark Calaway and the character of The Undertaker has meant to wrestling, Vince McMahon screwed him over at WrestleMania XXX. His loss was the most shocking thing we’d seen in wrestling in decades. At least it makes any future WrestleMania matches in doubt.
7 Chris Candido
This is a perfect complement to the Barry Horowitz entry. Candido appeared with his real life girlfriend Tammy Sytch in the WWE as The Bodydonnas, Skip and Sunny. The gimmick was that they liked to work out, yet unlike so many of his co-workers, Candido didn’t have the kind of chiseled physique a gym rat would have. Candido won a few matches against development talent, but it didn’t take long to see Sunny was the real draw of the team. Hoping to push Barry Horowitz, they had Candido do the job. After that, it was all downhill. How is somebody who can’t even beat Barry Horowitz supposed to be taken seriously. Sunny quickly went on to other things while the WWE released Candido because he couldn’t get over with the fans. It’s hard to have an audience get behind a wrestler when you have him lose to the biggest loser in the company.
6 Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes is a damn good actor, made the Stardust gimmick come alive like few could and was one of the more solid wrestlers in the company. The problem is, Cody Rhodes was never very interesting playing himself. For several years, WWE tried to get him over with the fans, but it just never happened until he and his brother, Goldust, teamed up and had a nice run as tag team champions. After they dropped the straps, the story evolved that Rhodes turned into Stardust to get the team back on track. Fans took delight in needling Stardust by chanting “Cody! Cody! Cody!” yet once the team broke up, the Stardust character never really went anywhere. Following the first Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Invitational at NXT, where he appeared as Cody Rhodes for the first time in a few years, Rhodes asked to return to being himself. The WWE said no, then proceeded to give Rhodes nothing to do for the next six months. Fed up, he asked to be released from his contract. His dedication and loyalty should have earned him a spot to bring Cody Rhodes back to the fans. WWE said no. He was screwed, so he left.
Everybody points to The Four Horsewomen of Bayley, Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks as the reason women’s wrestling is now scene on par with their male counterparts. These four women changed everything in the course of a few years at NXT and, after a rough start, in the WWE. Well, three did. Bayley wasn’t promoted with the three others. Instead, they had her drop the NXT women’s title to Asuka and then not have Bayley be able to win it back. People popped when she appeared on Raw, but it was a year after the others. She turned in great matches with Sasha Banks in NXT but hasn’t been able to show her stuff on the main roster, instead just looking like a doofus who loves everyone and gives a pouty face when she’s mad. Had Bayley been promoted with the three other girls, it would look like she’s on their level. Instead, she came in at the same time as people like Alexa Bliss and Carmella. The average fan probably looks at her as just another NXT call-up for the brand split. She has been so mishandled, we think her career may be permanently screwed compared to what it could have been.
4 The Ascension
Being set-up to fail is the WWE’s most frequent way of screwing its talent and there is no way that the talent can always be blamed. Take The Ascension for example. Fans who only know them from the main roster see a couple of Road Warrior/Demolition rip-offs with less charisma and more face pain that their ’80s comparisons. Longtime NXT fans, however, will remember them as the longest tenured tag team champions who were over huge with the fans. Yet the day they arrived at the main roster they have been portrayed as little more than a couple of jobbers who like to dress up funny. A storyline with Stardust went nowhere when Cody Rhodes left the company earlier in the year and the duo are lucky to appear on television lately. They’ve been positioned show poorly, Viktor and Konnor might do their career some good to split up and develop other characters. Maybe the WWE wouldn’t screw with them as bad the second time around.
3 CM Punk
It’s hard to know just how much screwing around with CM Punk the WWE did, but one thing is for sure: A guy doesn’t just walk away from a multi-million dollar contract for the company he and his new wife both have been with for years for no good reason. Haters will say Punk didn’t like the fact he wasn’t put into the main event of Wrestlemania for yet another year as his reason for leaving, but after listening to his interview on Colt Cabana’s podcast a few months after he left WWE, it seems like the company drove Punk to the brink of exhaustion and potential serious physical health. The big stars get time off, but CM Punk never did. Even if he was distant as Triple H once said on the Stone Cold Podcast, that’s no reason for the WWE to do the worst thing possible: Send CM Punk his pink slip on his wedding day. That’s not just screwed, it’s unforgivable.
2 Kenny Dykstra
Since the recent return of a much-abbreviated Spirit Squad, we’re reminded that Ken Doane aka Kenny aka Kenny Dykstra was never given the chance with WWE he deserved. He was pegged as the breakout star of the group, not Dolph Ziggler. When the Spirit Squad disbanded, they gave him the last name of Dykstra as a nod to former New York Mets baseball player… 20 years after he retired. It’s not like the WWE has exactly done a great job with Dolph Ziggler, but they gave Kenny no chance to catch on with the fans as a heel or a face. When you’re a young wrestler who the WWE casts aside, you can pretend a life on the indies awaits, but not if you’re looking to keep a roof over your head. Seeing a much-older Kenny in the ring as part of the middle-aged Spirit Squad is a reminder that the WWE had a solid prospect, but screwed him over by doing nothing more than giving him a last name.
1 Shane Douglas
Shane Douglas got screwed over by the WWE, just ask him. He hasn’t done an interview in 15 years where he doesn’t mention it at some point. Yes, there is a level of sour grapes, but if you’re looking for a victim of Vince McMahon being held hostage by The Kliq, it's Douglas. For whatever reason, Kevin Nash, Shawn Michaels, Triple H and Scott Hall decided they didn’t like him. They let McMahon know and he had little option but to do what his four biggest earners wanted, which was to bury the former ECW champion. This doesn’t even begin to address the fact he was “Dean Douglas” the evil school teacher. It was a horrible gimmick, but one Shane Douglas could have made work had it not been for a group of bullies protecting their position. He went on to have a healthy career returning to ECW and in WCW and TNA, but the Kliq made sure he was screwed out of his one real chance at WWE fame.